ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Iran has expressed willingness to have talks with the European Union on its nuclear programme after the month of Ramadan ends in early September, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Sunday.
He also said after a meeting with his Iranian and Brazilian counterparts that Iran would send a letter on Monday to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) asking for a start to separate “technical” talks on implementing a nuclear fuel swap.
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The West fears Iran’s secretive uranium enrichment programme is a veiled quest to develop nuclear weapons capability. Tehran denies this, saying it seeks only electricity from enrichment so it can export more of its oil wealth.
Brazil and Turkey have characterised the proposed fuel deal as a way to build confidence for broader negotiations involving six world powers, represented for now by the EU’s foreign policy chief, on an overall nuclear settlement with Iran.
“The Iranian Foreign Minister confirmed once again they are ready to start negotiations with Mrs Ashton… (He) stated that immediately after Ramadan they would start with negotiations,” Davutoglu said, adding they could meet in Istanbul.
Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign affairs chief, wrote to Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili last month inviting him to resume negotiations. The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan ends in the first half of September.
Davutoglu spoke after a meeting with foreign ministers Manouchehr Mottaki of Iran and Celso Amorim of Brazil, their first since the three struck a tentative swap accord in May that failed to prevent fresh U.N. sanctions against Iran.
Iran agreed in May to send some of its enrichment uranium stockpile abroad in exchange for medical reactor fuel, reviving a deal in principle which the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, brokered in October, only to see Tehran back out of it.
The May accord, which has not been carried out, failed to prevent fresh sanctions from the United Nations, European Union and United States adopted over the past two months.
But Davutoglu has said he still saw a chance of Iran carrying out the swap on the basis of their agreement and said Iran would propose in its letter to the IAEA that “technical negotiations” begin as soon as possible.
He was referring to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France — as well as Germany who have been locked in a protracted standoff with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.
Under the May deal, Iran agreed to transfer 1,200 kg (2,646 lb) of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey within a month and in return receive, within a year, 120 kg of 20 percent-enriched uranium to keep Tehran’s medical research reactor running.
But Western diplomats have dismissed the revived plan.
They said that removing from Iran 1,200 kg — enough, if highly enriched, to make an atom bomb — was less significant than when it was first brokered in October because Iran’s LEU stockpile had doubled in the interim.
At the time of the original October pact, 1,200 kg comprised about 70 percent of Iran’s known LEU reserve.
The Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Iran in June. Brazil and Turkey voted “no,” irked by the West’s dismissal of their deal which they said obviated the need for any more sanctions.