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Middle East
Iran set for talks with IAEA team
Two-day talks in Tehran come as Iran announces halt to oil supplies to France and Britain over nuclear standoff.
Last Modified: 20 Feb 2012 10:23
Iran says its nuclear programme is for civilian purposes [IRIB Iranian TV/Reuters]

A delegation from the UN nuclear watchdog has arrived in Iran on Monday for talks aimed at defusing international tensions over the country's atomic programme.

"We hope to have a couple of good and constructive days in Tehran," Herman Nackaerts, deputy-director general of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said at Vienna airport as the five-member team prepared to depart.

"The highest priority remains of course the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme," he told reporters, making clear he wanted to see concrete results in the talks with Iranian officials.

Western diplomats have downplayed any hopes of a major breakthrough during the two-day talks, even though it comes just a few days after signs of a possible opening for diplomacy in the long-running nuclear dispute.

The outcome, after an inconclusive first round of discussions last month, could determine whether the international standoff over Iran's uranium enrichment programme escalates further or offers scope to reduce tensions.

Iran denies Western allegations that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons but its refusal to curb uranium enrichment work, which it says is for civilian purposes, has raised concerns.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the Iranian foreign minister said his country was keen to quickly resume talks with world powers, once a place and date were agreed.

The last talks collapsed in Istanbul in January 2011, but Tehran has responded positively to an EU offer to look at reviving them.

"We are looking for a mechanism for a solution for the nuclear issue in a way that it is win-win for both sides," Salehi said.

But he added that Iran remained prepared for a "worst-case scenario."

Tensions have soared in recent months, with the United States and European Union adopting oil sanctions and Tehran threatening retaliation by closing the Strait of Hormuz, the main Gulf oil shipping lane.

Halting oil sales

Iran signalled on Sunday that it was ready to hit back hard at sanctions threatening its economy, by announcing it was halting its limited oil sales to France and Britain.

"Exporting crude to British and French companies has been stopped ... we will sell our oil to new customers," spokesman Alireza Nikzad was quoted as saying on Sunday by the ministry of petroleum website.

The European Union in January decided to stop importing crude from Iran from July 1 over its nuclear programme.

The European Commission said last week that the bloc would not be short of oil if Iran stopped crude exports, as they have enough in stock to meet their needs for around 120 days.

Saudi Arabia says it is prepared to supply extra oil either by topping up existing term contracts or by making rare spot market sales. Iran has criticised Riyadh for the offer.

Iran said the cut would have no impact on its crude sales, warning that any sanctions on its oil will raise international crude prices.

Source:
Agencies
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