Friday, April 24, 2009

Iran planning for more nuclear talks

Updated at: 1702 PST, Friday, April 24, 2009

BRUSSELS: Iran is preparing a set of new proposals aimed at restarting talks on the country's nuclear program, the country's foreign minister said Thursday.

European Union and French officials said Thursday they are working to set up the new talks, which would be the first international discussion on Iran's nuclear program since President Barack Obama took office in January.

The United States and some of its allies accuse Iran of secretly seeking to develop atomic weapons. Iran denies the allegation, saying its nuclear program is geared toward generating electricity not bombs.

"We do believe that this new proposed package would be a very good base for mutual cooperation on the international level," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters after attending an international donors' conference on Somalia.

He not elaborate on the proposals.

Mottaki's comments were similar to ones made earlier this month by Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. On April 9, Ahmadinejad said Iran would present a new proposal for negotiations, saying "conditions have changed" — an apparent reference to Obama's election and Iran's own progress in its nuclear program since previous international talks were held last year.

On Wednesday, Iran welcomed a "constructive" dialogue with world powers over the program but insisted that it won't halt its uranium enrichment activities. The statement, carried by the official IRNA news agency, came in response to an invitation from the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia for a new round of nuclear talks.

In Paris, a French official said Thursday that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana had contacted Iranian envoys about organizing a new meeting of senior diplomats in coming weeks.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, said the meetings would lay the groundwork for future discussions. He suggested they would be significant because they would be the first since recent American overtures toward Iran.

The Obama administration has been trying a different approach to Tehran by offering to engage in dialogue with the Iranians.

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton criticized the Bush administration for what she called a failed eight-year effort to isolate Iran that has only increased worries about Iranian influence.

In congressional testimony in Washington, Clinton said Bush's policy did not deter Iran "one bit" in its ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons and to support terror organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas.

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