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Sunday, April 8, 2012

Talks in Istanbul to target Iran's purer atom fuel

The US and its allies are pressing for an end to Iran's high-level uranium enrichment and the closure of a facility built deep under a mountain as talks on Tehran's nuclear standoff with the West resume this week.

Iranian media said the talks, which collapsed more than a year ago, would be held in Istanbul on Friday.

A return to the table, after more than a year of tightening sanctions over what the West believes is a programme to develop nuclear weapons, had been in doubt after Iran and the P5+1 countries - the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany - released conflicting statements about the venue.

Tehran had earlier voiced concerns about holding them in Turkey, whose opposition to Iranian ally President Bashar al-Assad in Syria has angered the Islamic Republic.

"After weeks of debates, Iran and the six world powers agreed to attend a first meeting in Istanbul," the semi-official Fars news agency reported, citing unnamed sources. State-run English language Press TV carried the same report.

The Fars news agency also said the sides had agreed to a second round of talks in Baghdad if there was progress in Turkey. There was no immediate comment on the venue from the world powers.

Turkey's NTV news quoted Turkish prime minister Tayyip Erdogan as saying: "It wouldn't be appropriate to make a statement on an issue that hasn't been confirmed. As soon it's confirmed, we will immediately share this with you."

Getting Iran to suspend high-level uranium enrichment and close a nuclear facility built deep under a mountain near the holy city of Qom are "near-term priorities" for the United States and its allies, a senior U.S. official said on Sunday.

The New York Times said the United States and other Western nations planned to demand Iran immediately close and ultimately dismantle the Fordow facility and also would call for a halt in the production of 20-percent enriched uranium.

The US official told Reuters "20 percent and closing Fordow are near-term priorities" for the Obama administration and its international partners in dealing with Iran.

Iran says its nuclear programme is for power generation and producing isotopes for medical purposes, but the U.N. Security Council has demanded a full suspension of enrichment, both to the 20 percent and the 3.5 percent level.

Iran has enough 3.5 and 20 percent-enriched uranium for around four bombs if refined further to about 90-percent purity, Western experts say.

Earlier on Sunday, Israel, which has also demanded an end to all enrichment and has threatened attacks on its arch-foe's nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails, signalled it would accept, as a first priority, the Western powers focusing on stopping 20-percent enrichment.

"We told our American friends, as well as the Europeans, that we would have expected the threshold for successful negotiations to be clear, namely that the P5+1 will demand clearly that - no more enrichment to 20 percent," Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS to be aired on Sunday.

Iran's stocks of 20 percent-pure uranium should be removed "to a neighbouring, trusted country", Barak said, according to an advance transcript of the interview.

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