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Home > English > EU Looks to Iran Nuclear Talks

EU Looks to Iran Nuclear Talks

Saturday 10 March 2012

By LAURENCE NORMAN

BRUSSELS—Talks with Iran on its nuclear program must now advance "swiftly and seriously," European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Saturday.

Responding to a request from Iranians, Ms. Ashton said last week that six major powers were ready to resume talks with Iran as soon as possible.

Our purpose is to persuade Iran to move away from its nuclear program," Ms. Ashton said at a press conference in Gymnich, Denmark, following a meeting of EU foreign ministers. "We hope from the contacts we’ve had that this process can now move forward swiftly and seriously."

The EU has said the talks—the first in more than a year—must start by focusing on confidence-building steps Iran will take to show its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Ms. Ashton said no date or time for the talks has yet been fixed but that EU and Iranian senior officials will meet "in the next day or so" to agree this.

EU officials have signaled talks could start later this month.

Ms. Ashton chairs the so-called P5+1 powers, which includes the five permanent members of the security council—the U.S., China, Russia, France and the U.K., plus Germany.

Speaking alongside her at the press conference, Danish Foreign Minister Villy Sovndal said there has been "no discussion" at the EU level about a military response to either the situation in Iran or in Syria. He said military intervention in the Syrian conflict would only worsen the humanitarian situation in the country.

And he said reports of military and other defections from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime offered "a few spots of light" that the situation in Syria could improve.

Ms. Ashton also picked out the importance of senior defections. She said she was fully behind the mission of former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to Syria and that it was natural that he focused first on efforts to stop the violence in the country.

"His first objective is to stop the fighting, but not his sole objective. His objective is to find a way through this that recognizes the needs of the people of Syria," she said.

The EU and the U.S. have been calling since last summer for Mr. Assad to step down.

Ms. Ashton said there would be a fresh push next week at the U.N. Security Council to win backing for a resolution on Syria. Russia and China have so far vetoed those efforts.

Write to Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@dowjones.com

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