Iran says path open for solution to nuclear dispute

DUBAI Tue Nov 19, 2013 2:52pm GMT

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DUBAI (Reuters) - The path to a resolution of the dispute over Iran's nuclear programme is open, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in remarks released on Tuesday, and world powers should seize an "historic opportunity" to clinch a deal.

Iran is to meet the six powers on Wednesday for the third round of negotiations in a month, two weeks after the sides came close to an initial accord that would curb Iran's nuclear activity in exchange for limited relief from sanctions.

In a five-minute Foreign Ministry video released on the eve of the talks, Zarif said there was a chance to end the stand-off as long as Western powers dealt with Iran on an "equal footing" and did not seek to impose their will on others.

The election of relative moderate Hassan Rouhani as president earlier this year opened a diplomatic window to try to untangle the decade-long deadlock that has at times edged towards conflict in the Middle East.

"This past summer, our people chose constructive engagement through the ballot box, and through this, they gave the world a historic opportunity to change course," Zarif said in the video posted online with subtitles in several languages.

"To seize this unique opportunity, we need to accept an equal footing and choose a path based on mutual respect," added Zarif, who heads Iran's delegation at the Geneva talks.

The goal is an interim deal to allow time to negotiate a comprehensive, permanent agreement that would provide assurances to the six powers that Iran's atomic programme will not eventually produce bombs.

Iran denies that it wants to develop a nuclear weapons capability and insists its programme is limited to the peaceful generation of electricity and medical research.

The November 7-9 round of talks stumbled over Iran's insistence that its right to enrich uranium be explicitly recognised in the draft text, and demands from the French delegation that the Arak heavy-water reactor be shut down.

Earlier on Tuesday, Iranian parliamentarians gathered signatures to demand the government continue enriching uranium to levels of 20 percent and finish building the Arak reactor, which is a feared potential producer of bomb-grade plutonium.

"RIGHT TO ENRICH"

Rouhani has repeatedly said Iran will never give up its right to produce nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes, a message the Islamic Republic's parliament, dominated by conservatives, appears to want to hold him to.

"On the eve of the Geneva talks, we plan to approve such a proposal in parliament. Based on that, the government is obliged to protect the nuclear rights of Iran in the forthcoming negotiations," Mehr news agency quoted member of parliament Fatemeh Alia as saying.

Another MP, Mehdi Mousavinejad, said the measure would require the government to maintain enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, complete the nuclear fuel cycle and finish construction of the Arak reactor.

While it has limited powers in Iran's complex political system, parliament would likely vote on any nuclear deal. However, it would be very unlikely to go against the wishes of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rouhani's approach to the talks, which he says is the best way to get sanctions hobbling Iran's oil-based economy lifted, has Khamenei's public backing. Rouhani succeeded hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in August.

Iranian political figures have lined up to accuse France of jeopardising chances to reach a deal after Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned against accepting "a fool's game" - that is, what he considered lopsided concessions to Tehran.

On Monday, French President Francois Hollande set out a tough stance during a visit to Israel, saying he would not give way on nuclear proliferation with respect to Iran.

His remarks came in for criticism on Tuesday from an Iranian parliamentary official.

"We advise the president of France to comment on the basis of facts, not assumptions, and beyond that, not to be the executor of the Zionist regime's (Israel's) plan," Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the assembly's national security and foreign affairs committee, told Iran's official news agency.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Iran on Monday to finalise an agreement proving to the world its nuclear work is peaceful but said he had "no specific expectations" for this week's Geneva talks.

(Reporting by Marcus George and Isabel Coles; Editing by Jon Hemming and Mark Heinrich)

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