Iranian Official Cites April 13 as Date for Nuclear Talkshttp://www.nytimes.com/2012/
LONDON — A senior Iranian official was quoted on Wednesday as saying that long-awaited talks with world powers on his country’s disputed nuclear program would begin on April 13 and he hoped the venue would be Istanbul.
The comments by Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi represented one more step in a tortuous diplomatic minuet over the proposed nuclear talks that is playing out against a backdrop of speculation about a possible military strike by Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Iran is also caught in a tightening noose of economic and diplomatic penalties ordered by United States, the United Nations and the European Union, including an embargo on purchases of Iranian oil set to come into force on July 1.
Mr. Salehi named the date as he welcomed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in Tehran.
The encounter between officials of the two disparate neighbors underscored Turkey’s efforts to project regional power on issues including Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the yearlong uprising in Syria. Istanbul is currently the host city for unity talks among exiled Syrian opposition groups and is set to be the venue for a gathering of the so-called Friends of Syria, including Western and Arab countries and organizations seeking a solution to the crisis.
Mr. Erdogan arrived in Tehran from a nuclear security summit in South Korea, where he met with President Obama. He plans to spend two days in talks with Iranian leaders, Iranian state media said.
According to Iranian state media, Mr. Salehi said Iran and representatives of the six powers — the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany — would be held on April 13.
“Istanbul has expressed its readiness to host these talks and is still one of the probable options for hosting these negotiations,” Mr. Salehi said. “I personally believe that Istanbul is the better option for hosting the negotiations.”
“We hope the venue for the talks will be determined within the next few days,” he said.
The last time the world powers met with Iranian officials was in January 2011, when talks in Istanbul ended in failure. Western leaders say they suspect Iran is seeking the capability to construct nuclear weapons, but Tehran says its program is for peaceful purposes.
Earlier this month, the negotiating powers said they were ready to resume face-to-face negotiations.
“I have offered to resume talks with Iran on the nuclear issue,” said Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, who represents the six powers in dealings with Iran. “’We hope that Iran will now enter into a sustained process of constructive dialogue which will deliver real progress.”
The resumption of negotiations could relieve pressure from Israel to use military force against Iran. But the decision is not without risks. Direct talks could allow Iranian negotiators to exploit various nations’ differences, effectively playing for time while Tehran’s scientists press ahead with nuclear ambitions. Failure could offer a rationale for military strikes.
Press TV, the Iranian state satellite broadcaster, said Tehran was ready to resume the talks “based on common grounds.” However, Iran has repeatedly made clear that it will not negotiate on any of its nuclear rights. “Iran maintains that, as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, it has every right to acquire and develop nuclear technology for peaceful objectives,” Press TV said.
Mr. Salehi’s statement came after the United States added an Iranian cargo airline, three officials from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and a Nigerian trading agent to its sanctions blacklist on Tuesday, citing evidence they had conspired to funnel illicit weapons shipments to Syria and Africa disguised as humanitarian aid and building materials.
The Treasury Department in Washington said the airline, Yas Air, had tried to transport AK-47 assault rifles, machine guns, mortar shells and ammunition to Syria as part of Iran’s support for Damascus, which is also subject to American sanctions. David S. Cohen, under secretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said the Treasury’s action “exposes Iran’s malign influence in the Middle East, Africa and beyond.” Iran has denied sending weapons to Syria.