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. Iran ready to restart nuclear talks with EU: ministry
TEHRAN, Oct 12 (AFP) Oct 12, 2005
Iran said Wednesday it was ready to restart talks with the European Union on its nuclear programme but insisted it was not prepared to hear renewed demands it abandon sensitive fuel cycle technology.

Iran "favourably welcomes and judges as positive a resumption of negotiations with the three main European countries," a foreign ministry statement said in a further sign the regime was softening its tone.

Negotiations were needed to "get out of the impasse and assure Iran's right to master peaceful nuclear technology," the statement added.

Talks with Britain, France and Germany broke down in August, when Iran slammed the door on a deal that offered incentives in exchange for a full cessation of fuel cycle work, which the West fears could be diverted to weapons production.

Iran also ended a freeze on fuel cycle work by resuming uranium conversion -- a precursor to potentially dual-use enrichment work -- in defiance of an accord struck with the EU-3 in Paris last November.

The clerical regime insists it only wants to make reactor fuel and that it has a right to do so as a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In September, the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board passed a resolution finding Iran to be in non-compliance with the NPT. That paves the way for the matter to be referred to the UN Security Council.

Wednesday's statement is the first time since then that Iran appears open to resuming talks with the EU-3. The country had been attempting to widen involvement in the talks to include more sympathetic countries.

But the statement asserted Iran's wish to "defend its right to master the fuel cycle in the framework of the NPT" and only enter talks "without preconditions".

But there was no mention of conversion work at Isfahan, which Iran has so far refused to again suspend.

An EU diplomat close to the talks said that although Iran's leadership appeared to be backing away from reprisals, there was little chance that negotiations could resume if uranium conversion work at a facility near the central city of Isfahan continued.

"We have noted a change in tone in recent days, but the Iranians have to understand that the condition to resume talks is a suspension of conversion and a return to the terms of the Paris accord," the diplomat told AFP.

"There will not be talks before work at Isfahan is stopped. The ball is in the Iranian court," he added, questioning whether Iran merely wanted to convince other countries that it was the Europeans who were the main hurdle to fresh talks.

"This will not be enough to avoid referral to the Security Council," said the source, who asked not to be named.

The IAEA board is due to meet again in November, leaving a small window for compromise.

On Tuesday Nicholas Burns, US under secretary of state for political affairs, said the "ball is in Iran's court" and underlined that Iran was responsible for breaching the Paris accord.

"Here is a country that unilaterally ruptured the Paris agreement ... that has resumed conversion in Isfahan ... a country that seems to be embarked in a very radical course," he said.

"The Iranians are in a weakened position diplomatically and it is up to the Iranians to come back to these negotiations with the EU-3 and to resume them."

The US says Iran is using an energy drive as a cover for weapons development.

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