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Iran, EU gear for new rounds of talks in Tehran

Tehran, March 15, IRNA-Negotiators from Iran and the European Union will hold their new rounds of negotiations focusing on political and trade cooperation, here Tuesday and Wednesday, Iran's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"In this round of negotiations, delegates from the two sides will separately discuss political cooperation as well as trade and cooperation agreement (TCA)," the ministry's head office for information and press said.

For political talks, the director director of Foreign Ministry's West European office Ebrahim Rahimpour will represent Iran, while a representative of Luxembourg Foreign Ministry will head the EU delegation.

As for a trade and cooperation agreement, the Iranian Foreign Ministry's director director for multilateral economic cooperation, Kia Tabatabie, will sit down for negotiations with the director general for economic affairs of the European Commission, Christian Lefler.

The political talks are the fifth of their kind, while negotiations on the trade and cooperation agreement are the sixth, with their last round held in the Belgian capital of Brussels earlier this month.

The EU-Iran talks began after President Mohammad Khatami came to power in May 1997, with the EU taking up a policy of 'comprehensive dialogue' with the Islamic Republic in the form of biannual Troika meetings on political and economic issues.

The political part of the dialogue covers issues regarding conflicts, including in the Middle East, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, human rights and terrorism.

On the economic front, the European Union is exploring possibilities for cooperation with Iran in energy, trade and investment as well as refugees and drugs control.

The EU is Iran's biggest trading partner, with oil accounting for over 80 percent of Tehran's exports to the EU. Iran also sells agricultural products -- mainly pistachios -- as well as textiles and carpets to the EU.

The two sides are fresh from their closed-door negotiations in Brussels and Vienna, which started last Tuesday and lasted for three days.

While both sides have remained tight-lipped over the outcome, the head of Iranian team in the negotiations, Iran's point man on nuclear issues Hassan Rowhani has sounded upbeat, describing the negotiations as 'successful'.

The head of Iran's team in the negotiations, Sirous Nasseri, said in Vienna last week that the two sides 'will draw up their conclusions and present them to the technical committee' for examination in Tehran.

The negotiations are being held in parallel by three working groups which follow them in three categories of economy and trade, political and security as well as technical and nuclear.

Several other Iranian officials have lined up to warn that Tehran might be forced to abandon the diplomatic process if pressed too far.

The key sticking point in the negotiations is uranium enrichment which Tehran has suspended as a confidence-building gesture since last November, but the country insists that it cannot be cajoled to sustain the suspension for good.

The Europeans, represented by Germany, France and Britain, have been pressing the Islamic Republic on this in return for a package of incentives.

Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi stressed Tuesday that economic incentives may help improve foreign relations but won't permanently stop Tehran from pursuing a peaceful nuclear program.

"Our (nuclear) rights cannot be exchanged for any economic incentives," he told a news conference.

Kharrazi said the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty allows Iran to pursue a peaceful nuclear program including enriching uranium and Tehran won't allow anybody to deny them that right.

"Economic incentives can't replace our rights. Our legitimate rights can't be compensated through economic incentives," Kharrazi said.

The foreign minister stated that Iran is ready to give assurances that it will not produce bomb-grade uranium.

"We do not intend to enrich to the level that is needed to make atomic bombs and have imposed a limit ... that we enrich to the level we need for nuclear (reactor) fuel," he said.

In a dramatic change of tactics, Washington offered Friday to allow Iran to begin talks on joining the World Trade Organization WTO) and consider letting it buy civilian airline parts as part of incentives to Tehran over its nuclear cooperation.

Iranian official have rejected the offer, with Intelligence Minister Ali Younessi describing it as 'ridiculous and an insult to the great Iranian nation'.

"The American authorities who have asked us to ignore our legitimate and obvious rights in return for the supply of few airplane parts which is their obligation must apologize to the Islamic Republic," he said.

The intelligence minister stated that the offer was in line with the US policy 'to despise the Iranian nation'.

Kharrazi added voice to the rebuttal, saying, "That America corrects part of its past mistakes is not incentive." He said Washington must change its policies towards Iran and recognize it as a regional power if relations are to improve.

"The key to this problem is in American hands. If America wants, it can improve ties by changing its policies vis-a-vis the Islamic Republic and recognizing the Islamic Republic as an effective power." The United States broke ties with Iran in 1980 after revolutionary students took over its embassy in Tehran and held 52 of its workers captives for 444 days.

Washington accuses Iran of seeking to build atomic bombs with its nuclear program, which Tehran insists is aimed at power generation.

The new US stance is a change from Washington's previous hardline position that Iran deserves no reward even though the country allows snap inspection of its nuclear facilities by the UN experts.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Sunday that neither threats nor incentives would alter Iran's determination to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.

... Payvand News - 3/16/05 ... --

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