EU, Iran agree on content of upcoming nuclear talks: Ashton
(STRASBOURG) - The EU and Iran have agreed on the content of upcoming nuclear talks, the bloc's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Monday after speaking by phone with Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili.
Ashton and Jalili "agreed on the need for Iran to engage on the E3+3 (P5+1) proposals, which address its concerns on the exclusively peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear programme," Ashton's office said in a statement.
The hour-long phone conversation was preceded by a meeting in Strasbourg of the political directors of the so-called P5+1 group -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, The five permanent member of the UN Security Council, plus Germany -- chaired by Ashton, who represents the group in dealings with Iran.
She also conveyed the group's "readiness to respond to the issues raised by the Iranians in Baghdad," the statement said, without elaborating.
Earlier Monday, Ashton met senior officials from the P5+1 in a Strasbourg hotel on the sidelines of a European Parliament session "to prepare the ground for the negotiations in Moscow" next Monday and Tuesday, an EU spokesman said.
The world powers and Israel suspect Iran, despite repeated denials, of wanting to build a nuclear bomb under cover of its civilian atomic programme.
The Moscow round follows two earlier unproductive meetings since early April, in Istanbul and in Baghdad which failed to yield results in efforts to curb Tehran's nuclear activities.
Iran and Ashton's office have had a testy exchange of letters in recent days, with the Iranians accusing the six negotiating powers of a lack of willingness to engage them.
Ali Bagheri, deputy to Iran's top negotiator Jalili, also complained that preparatory groundwork by experts from both sides was needed before the talks.
But Ashton's spokesman Michael Mann told AFP that the EU was "surprised" by the Iranian letters.
The group "is always ready to have discussions on substance, but Iran continues to put the focus on procedural aspects," he said.
Mann said the P5+1 had explained elements of its package during "long" meetings between EU Political Director Helga Schmid and Bagheri in Geneva before the Baghdad meet last month, and "handed over a non-paper in Baghdad on details of the proposal."
"At that time Iran was not ready to engage in experts' discussions on the basis of our balanced package," he said.
"There were several phone calls and exchanges of letter at deputy level during past two weeks, but Iran has not been willing to advance issues on substance," Mann said.
The Moscow round takes place just two weeks before the European Union imposes a full embargo on Iranian oil over the nuclear issue.
The United States said Monday it would exempt seven emerging economies including India from tough new sanctions after they cut back on oil from Iran, but the punishment still loomed for China.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton added India, Malaysia, South Africa, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Taiwan to the list of those exempt from the sanctions. In March, she made exemptions for European Union nations and Japan.
President Barack Obama's administration hopes to exert economic pressure on Iran in part to avert an attack by Israel, whose prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has not ruled out the use of force.
Administration officials have repeatedly voiced fear that an Israeli strike would be devastating and potentially fuel an arms race in the region.
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