EU urges Iran to be flexible at nuclear talks with big powers

Wed Feb 13, 2013 12:33pm EST
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By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton urged Iran on Wednesday to show flexibility at this month's talks between Tehran and six world powers aimed at defusing tensions over the Iranian nuclear program.

The five permanent U.N. Security Council members - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - and Germany will meet with Iran in Kazakhstan on February 26 for the latest round of talks in a 7-year-old attempt by the six powers to end the decade-long nuclear standoff with Tehran.

"We hope that Iran will come to this negotiation with flexibility and that we can make substantial progress," Ashton told the 15-nation Security Council during a meeting on the United Nations' cooperation with regional organizations.

"We're engaging in intensive diplomatic efforts to seek a negotiated solution that meets the international community's concern about the Iranian nuclear program," she said.

Ashton has been taking part in and coordinating the so-called P5-plus-one group's fitful negotiations with Iran.

The Islamic Republic has faced four rounds of U.N. sanctions and more draconian EU and U.S. sanctions due to its refusal to halt its enrichment program as demanded by the Security Council. Ashton said the EU was committed to continuing a dual-track strategy of combining pressure with dialogue.

"There is no doubt that the pressure of sanctions has been instrumental in bringing Iran back to the negotiating table," she said. "But sanctions cannot be an end in themselves. The key is for Iran to comply fully with its international obligations."

Iran's U.N. mission reacted swiftly to Ashton's remarks, saying in a statement that the "dual-track approach currently pursued by a number of countries is a futile exercise in the sense that ... exerting pressure on Iran will definitely derail the efforts on the diplomatic track."   Continued...

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton (L) meets with Iran's Chief Negotiator Saeed Jalili in Moscow, in this file photo taken June 18, 2012. REUTERS/Kirill Kudryavtsev/Pool