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Iran Balks at Holding Nuclear Talks in Turkey (NY) TIMES) By RICK GLADSTONE 04/05/12)Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/05/world/middleeast/impact-of-iran-sanctions-widens.html NEW YORK TIMES NEW YORK TIMES Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
Iran’s foreign minister raised new doubts on Wednesday about the resumption of international talks over its disputed nuclear program, saying the location may not be Turkey — as previously agreed — and suggested Iraq and China as possible alternate hosts.

The statement by the foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, was made a little more than a week before the talks among Iran and the so-called P5-plus-1 countries — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, which are the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany — are to take place. A change of location on such short notice, especially for such a charged diplomatic negotiation, seemed to represent another complication.

Other Iranian officials quoted by the country’s state-run news media had expressed irritation in recent days about the choice of Turkey, apparently angry with the Turks’ stance on two other big issues: the antigovernment uprising in Syria and the proposed NATO missile shield. Turkey, a NATO member, is participating in the shield project, which is designed to thwart Iranian missiles.

One of the Iranian officials, Mohsen Rezaii, the secretary of the Expediency Council, an advisory group to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had suggested Syria as an option, which was bound to be rejected by at least the Western members of the P5-plus-1 group, who have called Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, unfit to rule.

Mr. Salehi, who publicly endorsed the choice of Turkey just a few weeks ago, is the most senior Iranian leader to suggest other locations.

“Baghdad and China have been discussed as venues for holding negotiations, and this issue has to be agreed by the sides,” Mr. Salehi was quoted as saying by Iranian news agencies after a cabinet meeting in Tehran on Wednesday.

Western diplomatic officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the Iran nuclear issue is so diplomatically fragile, said they assumed the location was still likely to be Istanbul. But one senior Western diplomat called the idea of Baghdad “ridiculous” and said the dispute about the location raised questions about whether Iran was serious about the talks.

Some outside Iranian experts also said the foreign minister’s comments did not augur well.

“The fact that the interested parties can’t even agree on a venue is an inauspicious sign about their ability to reach a nuclear agreement,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington.

There was no immediate comment from Turkey or the P5-plus-1 representative, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who on Sunday announced that the talks would be held April 13 and 14 in Istanbul, made it clear that the timing was now in doubt, saying that she awaited a final decision by Ms. Ashton on the details. She reiterated that the United States had little patience for stalling tactics or “talks for the sake of talks.”

“There is still time and space to conclude the objectives that we seek through diplomacy,” she said at the State Department. “We want to see a peaceful resolution of the international community’s concerns, but the time for diplomacy is not infinite.”

Western diplomatic officials expressed deep doubts about holding the talks in Iraq, if only because of the security that would be required, as seen in the recent Arab League conference held in Baghdad.

Nonetheless, Iranian news agencies quoted Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister, as saying that he would ask the P5-plus-1 countries about the idea.

Iran’s uranium enrichment is the core issue in the talks, which were suspended in January 2011. Iran says its enrichment is purely peaceful, to fuel reactors for energy and the production of medical isotopes. The West suspects it is a cover for a nuclear weapons program.

Under the pressure of onerous economic sanctions from the United States and the European Union over the nuclear issue, Iran recently agreed to resume the talks. They have taken on increased urgency because Israel has threatened to attack suspected nuclear sites if it concludes that Iran is imminently capable of building a nuclear weapon.

Reporting was contributed by Steven Lee Myers from Washington, Steven Erlanger from Paris, Alan Cowell from London, and Artin Afkhami from Boston. (Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company 04/05/12)


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