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Iran working 'flat out' on nuclear arms: British minister
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Jan 5, 2012

Iran backs Russian stance on nuclear dispute: Kremlin
Moscow (AFP) Jan 5, 2012 - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev on Thursday that he backs Moscow's efforts to resolve the dispute over Tehran's nuclear drive diplomatically, the Kremlin said.

"Dmitry Medvedev noted with satisfaction the Iranian president's positive assessment of the Russian initiative -- a plan of gradually restoring faith in the Iranian nuclear programme. The two sides agreed to continue consulations on this question," it said in a statement.

The two leaders spoke after European diplomats said Wednesday that the European Union had reached preliminary agreement on an EU-wide ban on oil from the Islamic republic in a move backed by the United States.

Russia has relatively close ties with Iran and has built its first nuclear power station in the southern city of Bushehr. Moscow has also delivered the nuclear fuel for the reactor.

Moscow has echoed Western concerns about the nature of the Iranian nuclear programme but has stopped short of publicly accusing Tehran of seeking atomic weapons and has always said that the standoff should be solved by diplomacy.

Britain's defense minister said Thursday Iran is assumed to be working "flat out" on a nuclear weapons capability and will only be deterred if the cost to its economy becomes too high.

But Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said Britain would not favor a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, and instead will rely on sanctions targeting its oil exports, central bank and general economy.

"My working assumption is that they are flat out," Hammond said in a question-and-answer session at a US think tank here, referring to the Iranian nuclear efforts. "I think they are going as fast as they can."

"And I think our working assumption also has to be that Iran is set on a course that it will only be deterred from if the price for achieving the goal that they set out becomes too high.

"That is what we are in the process of doing by stepping up the pressure on oil revenues, on the operation of the central bank, on the economy generally," he said.

Hammond, who was to meet later in the day with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, spoke a day after the European Union reached a preliminary agreement on an oil embargo against Iran. The timing of such a move was still under debate.

Iran's has threatened to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world's oil flows, if it is hit with sanctions, and has warned the United States not to send an aircraft carrier back into the Gulf.

The tensions have sent the price of oil soaring.

Hammond said both Britain and the United States would make sure that their response to any provocation was "very measured, that there isn't an accidental escalation. What we cannot answer for is whether there is a plan on the other side to escalate."

In response to a question, he said: "We would not favor a preemptive strike. We have been very clear that we need to maintain the pressure but we also need to engage. And any question of a preemptive strike is abandoning the engagement."

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Iran wants nuclear talks to resume in Turkey
Tehran (AFP) Jan 5, 2012 - Iran's foreign minister said Thursday he would like to see talks with world powers on his country's nuclear programme resume in Turkey, but was waiting for a venue and date to be agreed.

"Personally I think that Turkey is the best place for the talks to take place. But it should be at a place of mutual agreement," Ali Akbar Salehi said in a televised joint news conference with visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Salehi said he had asked EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who was representing the world powers, to propose a time and place for the talks, when the two met briefly recently in the German city of Bonn.

Ashton's office, however, has said it was still waiting for Iran to formally respond to an October 2011 letter Ashton sent offering to resume the talks, which were suspended a year ago.

Salehi brushed aside that demand, saying Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, "has said in the past couple of months that Iran is ready to resume talks."

He added that Ashton had asked Davutoglu if Turkey could host the next meeting between Iran and the so-called 5+1 Group comprising UN permanent Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus non-permanent member Germany, and that Davutoglu had agreed.

Iran's position, Salehi said, "is a state of readiness to resume talks."

Davutoglu said in the news conference that he had conveyed Ashton's request for a formal response from Iran.

"We want to see both sides go back to the negotiating table," he said.


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Geithner to take Iran sanctions bid to China, Japan
Washington (AFP) Jan 4, 2012
Timothy Geithner will travel to China a Japan next week to discuss tougher sanctions against Iran, the US Treasury Department said Wednesday, hours after China said it opposed unilateral US measures. In a statement, the Treasury Department said Geithner would visit the two Asian economic powers in a January 10-12 trip. In China he will meet Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice President X ... read more

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