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World powers, Iran hold fresh exchange on nuclear proposals

March 19, 2013

— Reuters File Photo

BRUSSELS: World powers gave Iran fresh details on a proposed deal aimed at ending international concern over Tehran's nuclear programme during talks in Istanbul, the European Union said Tuesday.

At the talks on Monday, experts from the five permanent UN Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the US plus Germany “had technical discussions with Iran,” said a brief statement from a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Monday's technical exchange will be followed by political talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on April 5 and 6, said Michael Mann, the spokesman for Ashton, who heads the talks between the six powers and Iran.

In Istanbul, the experts, led by Stephan Klement, “provided further details on the revised confidence building proposal” put forward by the western powers to Iran in talks in Almaty on February 26 and 27.

The six, last month offered Iran a softening of non-oil or financial sector-related sanctions in exchange for concessions over Tehran's sensitive uranium enrichment operations. The West suspect Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of what the Islamic republic insists is a purely civilian programme with peaceful ends.

The offer, reportedly involving easing sanctions on Iran's gold and precious metals trade and lifting others on some very small banking operations, in return demands a tougher nuclear inspection regime and the interruption of enrichment operations at the Fordo bunker facility where 20-percent enrichment goes on.

The EU statement said the Istanbul talks also provided an opportunity for experts from both sides “to explore each other's positions on a number of technical subjects.” On Monday, US President Barack Obama urged Iran to take “immediate and meaningful steps” to move “toward an enduring, long-term settlement” with the world over its disputed nuclear programme.

In a video message in honour of the Iranian Nowruz holiday, Obama said that if Tehran took such action “the Iranian people will begin to see the benefits of greater trade and ties with other nations, including the United States.” Both the United States and Israel have refused to rule out military action to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and the issue is likely to top the agenda this week during Obama's first trip to Israel as president.