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article imageStart date for next round of Iran nuclear talks confirmed

By Robert Myles     Feb 1, 2014 in Politics
Munich - Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, has confirmed the next round of talks on Iran’s nuclear program will start in Vienna, Austria, on Feb. 18.
The aim of the second-stage talks is to strike a deal putting permanent, verifiable structures in place to limit Iran’s nuclear program. In exchange, Iran could expect to see a further loosening of sanctions.
The announcement came after Ms. Ashton held talks with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the Munich Security Conference in Germany, also attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry as well as representatives of the other 5+1 negotiating powers, comprising the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany.
The further negotiations follow on from an interim deal struck with Iran last November. The interim agreement, the Geneva Accord, came into force on Nov. 24, 2013, but would expire after six months. The interim agreement, which came after two months of negotiation, provides that Iran would suspend its most sensitive nuclear activity in exchange for a relaxation of sanctions by Western nations. The sanctions have seriously damaged the Iranian economy, which is heavily reliant upon oil exports as a source of foreign exchange.
On Jan. 20, the day the interim deal with the Islamic state was due to come into effect, Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI), announced Iran would voluntarily suspend uranium enrichment to 20 percent purity and close down he centrifuges used to enrich uranium at two of Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Western powers have consistently taken the stance that Iran’s nuclear program and associated uranium enrichment went well beyond the technology required to pursue a peaceful nuclear program.
Iran has always denied its atomic program was for anything other than civilian purposes, underlined earlier this week by Iranian reaction to President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address.
In his address, Obama said last November’s interim agreement with Iran was the result of US and international pressure, as he sought to forestall those in the US Congress calling for tougher sanctions now. Obama said, “American diplomacy, backed by pressure, has halted the progress of Iran's nuclear program and rolled parts of that program back. The sanctions that we put in place helped make this opportunity possible."
But in Iran, the president’s remarks were dismissed as "unrealistic and unconstructive" by Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham, on Iranian state broadcaster IRIB. She said Obama’s comments on Iran’s nuclear activities displayed an incorrect understanding of Tehran’s commitment to a peaceful nuclear program, commenting, “It is a totally wrong interpretation of Tehran's interest to create an opportunity for western countries to have another kind of relation with the Iranian nation."
Sticking to the Iranian line that the purposes of Iran’s nuclear program was nothing other than peaceful, she was dismissive of the suggestion that sanctions had forced Tehran to the negotiating table, adding, “The delusion of sanctions having an effect on Iran's motivation for nuclear negotiations is based on a false narration of history."
Last week, the United States and the European Union made a start on sanctions reductions in implementation of the Geneva Accord. Areas covered included oil exports, trade in precious metals and automotive services.
Relations with Iran, however, for both the US and other Western powers, remain far from normal. The next round of talks, due to start in Austria later this month, will likely be a long and arduous road toward putting long-term verifiable mechanisms in place to curb what the West perceives to be Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
More about iran nuclear program, Geneva Accord, sanctions against Iran, Uranium enrichment, politics of Iran
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