Wed, Oct 16, 2013 - Page 7 News List

First Geneva meeting ‘good,’ Iran says

GREAT EXPECTATIONS:Tehran said its PowerPoint presentation to the world powers to allay their concerns over its nuclear program was received in a ‘positive’ atmosphere

Reuters, GENEVA, Switzerland

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, left, yesterday sits next to Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif, prior to the start of two days of closed-door nuclear talks at the UN offices in Geneva, Switzerland.

Photo: EPA

Iranian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araqchi said yesterday world powers had a “good” first reaction to Tehran’s proposals for easing the standoff over its nuclear program and that details would be discussed in the afternoon.

The minister, speaking to reporters after Iran made a PowerPoint presentation at the start of a two-day meeting with the six powers in Geneva, said the atmosphere in the discussions had been “positive.” He gave no details of the proposals, describing them as “confidential.”

Western diplomats were not immediately available for comment. They had earlier called on Iran to put forward concrete proposals to allay their concerns about the Islamic state’s nuclear energy program, which the West fears may be aimed at developing a nuclear weapons capability. Iran denies this.

The six powers — the US, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany — want Iran to curb sensitive nuclear uranium enrichment. Iran wants them to ease tough sanctions that have severely damaged its lifeblood oil exports.

“There is a positive atmosphere. Our plan was given and it’s planned that in the afternoon we will discuss more details, but the first reactions were good,” Araqchi said after the morning session broke for lunch.

“It’s a completely realistic, balanced and logical plan,” he added.

The Geneva talks, the first since relatively moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was elected in June on a platform to ease the country’s international isolation, is seen as the best chance in years to defuse a festering standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions that has heightened the risk of a new Middle East war.

In a possible sign of the Islamic Republic’s determination to engage meaningfully, the talks in Geneva were expected to be held in English for the first time, said a senior US Department of State official, who asked not to be named.

On the eve of the talks, Washington held out the prospect of quick sanctions relief if Tehran moves swiftly to allay concerns about its nuclear program, although both countries said any deal would be complex and take time.

Western diplomats said it remained unclear whether proposals for ending the dispute that Iran promised to put forward in the meeting would be sufficient to enable headway to be made.

Western powers suspect Iran is trying to develop the means to make nuclear weapons behind the screen of a declared civilian atomic energy program. Tehran denies this, but its refusal to curb sensitive nuclear activity or permit unfettered UN inspections has drawn tough international sanctions.

“We definitely hope that the new momentum will translate into some concrete step forward,” a senior Western diplomat said ahead of the talks.

However, Iranian atomic energy head Ali Akbar Salehi suggested this week that talks may not get that specific.

Asked whether Iran’s Fordow underground uranium enrichment site, which the big powers want shut, would be discussed, Salehi was quoted as saying by the Fars News Agency: “We do not expect to get into contents in today’s meeting because the discussion will be on the generalities and I believe that the principles, timing and initiating the process will be considered.”

The US administration official said any potential sanctions relief would be “targeted, proportional to what Iran puts on the table.”

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