08202014Wed

'Khamenei approval required' for direct US talks

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran stressed on Monday that any decision to hold direct talks with the United States on Tehran's disputed nuclear programme would have to be taken by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The two arch-foes have previously held indirect discussions within regional forums on subjects such as the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq but holding direct bilateral talks would be "different," Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters.

"A decision on comprehensive, bilateral political talks between the two countries ... is up to the supreme leader," Salehi said when asked about Russia's expressed backing of any one-on-one meetings between Tehran and Washington.

Deputy Russian foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Financial Times at the weekend that Russia would support direct US-Iran talks.

"We will not have a word against this. Of course, we would hope we would be informed on the content of these arrangements," Ryabkov said.

"We want something that will bring everyone out of this morass," he said.

Speculation about possible direct talks between Tehran and Washington surfaced after Iran, reeling from international sanctions over its nuclear programme, found itself facing four more years with Barack Obama as leader of the United States.

Iran has not ruled out direct talks with Washington but says these will not come overnight.

Salehi on Monday also expressed hope that negotiations on its nuclear programme with the P5+1 -- the UN Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany -- would resume soon.

"In a way, we are in contact with the US through negotiations with the P5+1," Salehi said.

"We hope the (next) meeting will soon happen ... We are prepared for the resumption of talks so each side can achieve satisfactory results," Salehi said.

The P5+1 has for years sought through negotiations with Iran to defuse an international crisis over Tehran's atomic ambitions, which the West believes has military aims despite repeated denials by the Islamic republic.

The last high-level talks, which all but failed, were held in Moscow in June.

According to Salehi, Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the world powers in the talks, are to hold a telephone conversation before November 21 "to decide on a venue and date."

The UN Security Council has imposed four sets of sanctions on the Islamic regime, which coupled with unilateral Western restrictions on its oil sector and banks, have begun to cause major problems for its economy.

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