Defiant Iran meets EU in new nuclear talks with world powers

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Iran and the EU will hold talks in Geneva on Monday, as Tehran sought to renew contact with world powers after a 14 month break and calm its neighbours even though it held firm on its nuclear programme.

Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili will meet the European Union's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, over two days in an undisclosed location in the western Swiss city, the Swiss foreign ministry confirmed.

The EU will represent the "E3+3", UN Security Council permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany, it added, the same group of nations that last held direct talks on Iran's controversial nuclear programme in October 2009.

An EU source said: "This is an important meeting. We've waited a long time for it."

"It is not important because it will produce instant results but important because we hope it will produce a re-engagement with Iran which we hope will over time produce results," added the source.

On Saturday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said western powers should "stop being hostile."

"We have said many times that we will not negotiate the inalienable rights of the Iranian nation with anyone, but if they want to talk about cooperation, then we are ready," he was quoted as saying on state television's website.

Iran insists that it is entitled to enrich uranium for energy and has vowed to continue the work, despite repeated ultimatums from the UN Security Council to halt enrichment because of fears Tehran secretly wants nuclear weapons.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had seized on the unwanted publication of confidential US diplomatic cables by Wikileaks over the past week to signal that those concerns were shared by Tehran's Arab neighbours.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki sought to counter those fears on the sidelines of an international security conference in Bahrain on Saturday.

He insisted that Iran had "never used" force against its neighbours "and never will because our neighbours are Muslims."

Mottaki cautioned against submitting to "pressure by outsiders to divide us," saying "the presence of foreign powers will not help establish security in the region."

Iran's envoy nonetheless described as a "step forward" separate remarks by Clinton suggesting that Iran is entitled to a peaceful nuclear energy programme.

"But these words should be turned into action," he added.

In Bahrain on Friday, Clinton urged Iran to come to Geneva "in good faith and prepared to engage constructively" on its nuclear programme.

Tehran has defiantly insisted that stepped up international sanctions have had no impact on its economy, while other tensions have grown.

Iran has blamed the US and Israel for being behind bomb attacks that killed a prominent nuclear scientist and wounded another, and accused the UN nuclear watchdog of including "spies" among the inspectors it sends to Iran to monitor the nation's atomic programme.

The UN Security Council has called on Iran in six resolutions -- four of which impose sanctions -- to halt its controversial atomic work.

Tehran insists its nuclear programme has peaceful ends and wants the talks to cover political issues.

Observers believe that there is little hope for a deal emerging in Geneva.

Mohammed-Reza Djalili, of Geneva's Graduate Institute, said that the Iranians "want to show goodwill in discussing but I don't think they want to really negotiate after the declarations that they have made."

Mark Fitzpatrick, senior fellow for non-proliferation at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said "the most fruitful thing that might come of it is... the beginning of a continuing discussion.

Fitzpatrick suggested Iran wanted to be seen to be reasonable.

"If they refuse to continue, they would be pictured as the bad guys, the partner that is inflexible."

© 2010 AFP

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