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EU's Ashton refutes Iran 'inactive' charge in nuclear talks

13 October 2010, 17:35 CET
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(BRUSSELS) - European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, who represents world powers in nuclear talks with Iran, on Wednesday refuted Tehran's claim she was "not serious" about reviving the negotiations.

"We offered to meet them at different levels, last time in New York (on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly), and our readiness to meet them is still there," a spokeswoman for Ashton told AFP.

"We haven't received anything in writing in response to our offers in the last weeks," added spokeswoman Maja Kocijancik.

Tehran this week blamed Ashton for the stalemate in talks, urging her to be "more active" in pursuing the dialogue.

"Basically, it seems that the volume of Ms. Ashton's activity is lower," foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters.

Ashton represents six world powers -- the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany -- in negotiations with Iran.

Mehmanparast directly blamed her for the stalemate. "If she is really eager for negotiations, she should be more active," he insisted, adding that her predecessor Javier Solana was "more active."

"We have announced our readiness for negotiations. But the other side ... is not really following up, or is not serious" about resuming the dialogue, he said.

Ashton a few weeks ago also came in for criticism for failing to attend the long-awaited resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks in Washington early September.

France for instance had openly regretted the absence at the talks of the EU diplomacy chief, a post created in December 2009 in the hopes of giving the 27-nation bloc a bigger voice on the world stage.

But regarding Iran, one source said during the UN assembly that the problem ran deeper. "The Iranians refused Ashton's offer (of talks). They don't see Ashton as decisive," said the senior diplomat, who asked not to be identified.

Dialogue between Iran and the six powers has been stalled since October 2009, when the two groups last met in Geneva.

Last Saturday Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tehran considered late October or early November an appropriate time for a resumption of the talks but a spokesman for Ashton said no date had been set.

But Mottaki is likely to meet Ashton in Brussels on Friday, where he is expected to take part in an international meeting on aid to Pakistan, the Iranian embassy said.

No bilateral meeting with Ashton on the nuclear issue has been scheduled, said a European diplomat who did not rule out the possibility.

The negotiations aim to address international suspicions that Iran is seeking to develop atomic weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear programme, a charge Tehran vehemently denies.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had declared a unilateral ban on talks until the middle of September after the Islamic republic was hit with new sanctions by UN Security Council on June 9.

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