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. Iran eases talk of deadline for nuclear talks with EU
TEHRAN (AFP) Jan 15, 2005
Iran has agreed to avoid setting a firm deadline for talks with the European Union on its nuclear programme and could maintain its freeze of uranium enrichment activities until at least mid-year, a top official was quoted as saying Saturday.

"We have reached an agreement with the Europeans not to threaten each other with a deadline," senior nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian told the hardline Kayhan newspaper.

The EU and Iran this week kicked off a fresh round of talks on a potentially lucrative trade pact after a deal clinched in November by the European bloc's three most powerful members -- Britain, France and Germany -- for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.

The trade deal forms part of a package of possible incentives Iran could earn if the talks also manage to produce "objective guarantees" the country is not seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran has agreed to suspend uranium enrichment activities while the talks are in progress. The country insists it only wants to produce fuel for nuclear reactors, but there are fears the sensitive fuel cycle work could be geared towards making weapons.

Mousavian said in the talks with the EU, Iran wanted to see "objective, serious and fundamental progress".

"If we see this, we will enter a second three-month round of talks," he said, meaning the talks -- and the nuclear freeze -- could go on until at least June or July.

At this point, he said, Iran would make a "completely reasonable decision" on the dialogue and freeze, which has been verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In recent weeks several Iranian officials have voiced impatience over the enrichment freeze, and have called for the talks with the EU to be wrapped up as quickly as possible.

The Europeans are pushing for Iran to accept a long-term suspension of its work on the nuclear fuel cycle, including the enrichment of uranium, to ease international alarm over what the United States alleges is a covert weapons drive.

In return, Europe's three major powers are offering Iran civilian nuclear technology, including access to nuclear fuel, increased trade and help with Tehran's regional security concerns.

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