The European Union says Iran has opened the latest round of talks with the international community by presenting new proposals on how to resolve the dispute over its nuclear program. Michael Mann, the spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, made the announcement after the start of two-day talks in Geneva between senior officials from Iran and the 5+1 group of world powers. Mann expressed cautious optimism about the outcome of the talks but did not elaborate.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton (left) speaks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the start of two days of closed-door nuclear talks in Geneva.
Ashton is leading the 5+1 group, consisting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France -- plus Germany.
The talks are the first since Iranian President Hassan Rohani took office in August. He has vowed to solve the decade-old nuclear standoff with the international community in six to 12 months. Iran's economy has been affected by crippling international sanctions.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said before the talks that he hoped Tehran and world powers could agree this week on a "road map" to resolving the standoff.
Zarif's deputy, Abbas Araqchi, said a day before the talks began that Iran would make an offer that the West would have no excuse to refuse, but emphasized that Tehran would not give up its right to enrich uranium.
Tehran has rejected previous international demands that it stop enriching uranium to the 20 percent level and ship out its stocks, except for small amounts for medical use.
The six world powers want Iran to stop 20 percent enrichment because it is a short technical step away from weapons-grade enrichment.
Iran denies it is secretly developing nuclear weapons, as the West suspects.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged world powers to reject partial concessions from Iran "that would fail to bring about the full dismantling of the Iranian military nuclear program."
Israel says it will not allow Iran to have more than 250 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium -- enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb.
The most recent report by the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), says Iran has 185 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium and is maintaining this level by converting excess material into fuel rods.
Washington has signaled that many more meetings probably lie ahead.
U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who is leading Washington's team in Geneva, told a Senate panel on October 3 that fundamental sanctions already in place should not be lifted soon unless all concerns are addressed by Tehran.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and dpa
Copyright (c) 2013 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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