European Union Foreign Policy Chief, Catherine Ashton, speaks during a press conference in Baghdad on May 24, 2012 following two days of talks between the P5+1 group of world powers and Iran. -AFP Photo

BAGHDAD: Iran and world powers agreed Thursday to hold a new round of nuclear talks in Moscow on June 18-19, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said after a tough two-day meeting in Baghdad.

“We will maintain intensive contacts with our Iranian counterparts to prepare a further meeting in Moscow with arrival on 17 June, with talks on 18th and 19th June,” Ashton told a news conference.

“As we have already agreed, the talks will be based on a step-by-step approach and reciprocity. We remain determined to resolve this problem in the near term through negotiations, and will continue to make every effort to that end.”

The announcement followed two long days of talks, originally scheduled to be one day, aimed at laying the groundwork to easing the crisis over Iran's nuclear programme.

Much of the international community suspects Iran's nuclear activity is aimed at developing atomic weapons. The Islamic republic denies this, and Tehran's lead nuclear negotiator later told the same news conference it has an “absolute right” to peaceful nuclear energy and uranium enrichment.

The talks followed a first session in Istanbul in mid-April, the first in 15 months, that found enough common ground to meet again in the Iraqi capital to tackle more substantive issues.

Ashton said the P5+1 powers “remain firm, clear and united in seeking a swift diplomatic resolution of the international community's concerns on the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme.”

”We expect Iran to take concrete and practical steps to urgently meet the concerns of the international community, to build confidence and to meet its international obligations,” she said.

The Briton added that the powers had proposed at the talks “clear proposals to address the Iranian nuclear issue and, in particular, all aspects of 20-percent enrichment.”

For the P5+1, this is the most worrying part of Tehran's activity and the crunch issue because the capability to enrich to 20 percent shortens the “breakout” time needed to enrich to 90-percent weapons grade.

“Iran declared its readiness to address the issue of 20 per cent enrichment and came with its own five-point plan, including their assertion that we recognise their right to enrichment,” Ashton said.

Her proposals reportedly included demanding a suspension of 20-per cent enrichment but without the sanctions relief in return that Iran was pressing for. Ashton made no mention of sanctions in her statement.


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