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A new round of Iran nuclear talks, and some optimism this time

Some diplomats are hopeful that talks in Istanbul, Turkey, involving Iran, the U.S. and five other nations will be more fruitful than a similar gathering in Geneva last month.

January 21, 2011|By Julia Damianova, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Vienna — Western diplomats meeting with Iranian officials in Turkey beginning Friday are hoping for at least modest gains in trying to get the Islamic Republic to limit its nuclear development program.

The two days of talks in Istanbul, which follow a similar gathering in Geneva in December that ended without visible progress, are expected to again feature U.S. and European officials trying to persuade Iranian officials to agree to curb Tehran's nuclear efforts involving uranium enrichment. Many nations fear Iran is working toward developing nuclear weapons, while Tehran contends that its program is focused on civilian energy uses.

"A good result of the talks would be gaining agreement on a perspective to move forward," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists in Istanbul a day before the start of the meeting.

Chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said this week that "common points" should be discussed in Istanbul, not demands from the U.S. and its allies. Jalili said last month that Iran would not discuss halting uranium enrichment during the talks in Turkey.

Iran's U.N. ambassador, Mohammad Khazaee, told reporters that Iran would "never negotiate on our inalienable right to use nuclear energy for … peaceful purposes."

"It doesn't mean that Iranians are looking for confrontation," he said. "But at the same time … it's not going to work to put a knife [to] the neck of somebody, or your sword, and at the same time asking him to negotiate with you."

In addition to Iran, the negotiations convened by the European Union involve Britain, France, China, Russia, Germany and the United States. The Obama administration's approach to Tehran has included outreach as well as tough economic sanctions.

The challenges facing Iran include existing United Nations sanctions, which are supposed to limit access to raw materials needed for the nuclear program, and the computer malware known as Stuxnet, which is believed to have slowed Tehran's nuclear progress. Iran's representatives in Istanbul are expected to focus on topics such as global disarmament and concerns about U.S. military bases in the region.

One Western diplomat who did not want to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issue said expectations for Istanbul are "modest" because in "substance, tone and outcome" the meeting will probably be very similar to the one in Geneva.

But another diplomat, who also asked to remain anonymous, said: "We expect substance. We expect that Iran makes it clear it is ready for confidence-building measures in the nuclear sphere."

Damianova is a special correspondent.

Times wire services were used in compiling this report.

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