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Iran may hold direct talks with US: Iran foreign min

Monday, 4 February 2013 - 9:42am IST | Agency: The Daily Telegraph

The permanent five members of the United Nations security council along with Germany are to meet Iran in Kazakhstan on February 25.
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Iran has been offered fresh talks over its nuclear programme by the major western powers and may even hold direct negotiations for the first time with the United States, its foreign minister said.

In what could be a key breakthrough, Ali Akbar Salehi, the Iranian foreign minister, said the permanent five members of the United Nations security council, along with Germany, had agreed to meet in Kazakhstan on February 25.

He also gave a "positive" reaction to comments by Joe Biden, the US vice-president, that Washington was willing to hold what would be the first direct, open negotiations with Iran since 1979. But he failed to confirm whether Iran would actually take part in any of these negotiations, indicating divisions in the country's senior leadership.

That was separately indicated when Iran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had an embarrassing stand-up row in parliament with the Speaker, Ari Larijani, who is known to be close to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

There has been a long debate within the American policy establishment about whether to grant Iran the "legitimacy" implied by direct negotiations. For the past five years talks to persuade Iran to give up its enriched uranium nuclear programme have been held under the umbrella of the "P5 + 1", as the six world powers are known.

At a security conference in Munich Mr Biden confirmed reports that President Barack Obama was prepared to authorise direct talks. "We have made it clear that we would be prepared to meet bilaterally with the Iranian leadership," he said. "That offer stands, but it must be real and tangible, and there has to be an agenda that they're prepared to speak to."

He said they would happen "when the Supreme Leader was serious".

Mr Salehi said that as far as negotiations with America went, Iran had "no red line". However, he stopped short of saying that Iran would agree to take part.

Ayatollah Khamenei has vetoed previous negotiations, but the effect of sanctions is now said to be straining both the economic and political system in the country.

Mr Ahmadinejad's attempts to counter their effects by liberalising the economy, including reducing subsidies on staple goods, has been wildly unpopular and led to his condemnation in parliament.

On Sunday, his labour minister, Abdolreza Sheikholeslami, was voted out of office, but not before Mr Ahmadinejad, in defending him, had played a tape that he said was of Mr Larijani's brother offering financial favours to a disgraced former senior prosecutor.

The Daily Telegraph

031956 GMT Feb13


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