TEHRAN - Negotiations between officials from Iran and Britain, France and Germany aimed at building on the Islamic republic's agreement to freeze sensitive nuclear work are to start next week, a senior Iranian official said on Tuesday.
Iran's top national security official and nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani said the first round of the dialogue was likely to involve himself, the foreign ministers of the EU's "big three" -- Britain's Jack Straw, France's Michel Barnier and Germany's Joshka Fischer -- as well as EU foriegn policy chief Javier Solana.
Rowhani said the talks would take place sometime next week in "one of Europe's capitals". Officials had already slated December 15 as the approximate starting date.
He also said the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, had asked to take part in the meeting.
Last week the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors decided Iran should not be referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions after Tehran agreed in a deal with the three European states to suspend its uranium enrichment programme.
Iran agreed to the deal amid threats from the United States -- which alleges that the Islamic Republic is secretly developing nuclear weapons -- to send the matter to New York.
In return, Iran was promised considerable and wide-ranging rewards by the European trio who would like the freeze to become permanent.
Enrichment has been and remains at the heart of the stand-off.
Iran says it only wants to enrich uranium to low levels, so as to produce fuel for a series of atomic power stations it has yet to build. The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) permits enrichment for peaceful purposes.
But there are fears that Iran's fuel cycle drive belies an effort to acquire a "strategic option", given that uranium enriched to high levels can produce the explosive core of a nuclear bomb.
In return for the suspension, the EU is offering Iran a package of incentives -- due to be hammered out in more detail when negotiations begin -- on trade, security and technology.
This is to include supporting Iran's bid to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO), an eventual Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU, adressing Iran's regional security concerns and sharing peaceful nuclear technology.
But in tandem the EU also wants the negotiations to produce "objective guarantees" that Iran is not seeking and will not seek to divert its programme in order to make weapons.
Iran has pledged to maintain its suspension while the negotiations with the EU are in progress.