Iran says nuclear talks a step forward

TEHRAN Sun Jul 20, 2008 8:42pm BST

1 of 5. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad adjusts his earphone during a news conference after the Eight Developing Islamic Nations summit in Kuala Lumpur July 8, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Zainal Abd Halim

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TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's president described talks with world powers on its disputed nuclear programme as a step forward on Sunday, official media said, even though the meeting in Geneva failed to produce any breakthrough in the standoff.

At Saturday's discussions in the Swiss city, the six powers gave the Islamic Republic two weeks to answer calls to rein in its nuclear activities or face tougher sanctions after talks ended in stalemate despite unprecedented U.S. participation.

Prospects of ending the row looked dim as Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said Iran would not discuss a demand to freeze sensitive atomic work the West fears is aimed at making bombs at the next meeting. Iran says its aims are peaceful.

But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave an upbeat assessment. "Any negotiation that takes place is a step forward," he told reporters, according to IRNA.

"Yesterday's negotiation is regarded as one of these forward-moving negotiations," Ahmadinejad said.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said after some six hours of talks in Geneva he hoped for a clear answer from Tehran in about two weeks to a world powers offer of trade and technical incentives to halt uranium enrichment.

Enriched uranium can provide fuel for power plants but also material for bombs if refined further.

An Iranian analyst said he did not believe Saturday's meeting had changed anything in the nuclear dispute and that Tehran's aim was to prolong the talks.

"They are trying to gain as much time as possible," the analyst, who declined to be named, said.

UNITY

The analyst said Iran would only give up nuclear enrichment for "strategic reasons or interests" and this was not on offer in the incentives package proposed by the six major powers, which includes help in developing a civilian nuclear programme.

Envoys from the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain -- the so-called sextet of world powers -- attended the Geneva meeting.

Diplomats said the presence of senior U.S. envoy William Burns underlined the unity of major powers in the dispute, which has helped push up oil prices record levels, and stressed that patience was running out with Iran.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki described the U.S. decision to attend the meeting in Geneva as a "positive procedural step" which he hoped would lead to mutually beneficial results, IRNA said.

"This was an opportunity for America to know the views of the Islamic Republic," Mottaki said.

Mottaki said talks on the nuclear issue would continue but that no time or place had yet been decided. Officials in Geneva, however, made clear that any follow-up contacts would be at a lower level than Saturday's talks.

The United Nations has imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran in a stand-off that goes back to the revelation in 2002 by an exiled opposition group of the existence of a uranium enrichment facility and heavy water plant in the country.

Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil producer, rejects suspicions that it wants an atomic bomb and says its nuclear programme is intended to generate electricity.

(Additional reporting by Hashem Kalantari; Editing by Matthew Jones)

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