Reuters: Three European powers and Iran have begun talks
on a long-term agreement on nuclear, economic and security cooperation with both sides seeking to build trust amid continuing suspicion over Tehran's atomic programme. The meeting between Iranian negotiator Hassan Rohani, the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana followed Iran's agreement last month to suspend activities that could help make a
nuclear bomb. Reuters

By Paul Taylor

BRUSSELS - Three European powers and Iran have begun talks on a long-term agreement on nuclear, economic and security cooperation with both sides seeking to build trust amid continuing suspicion over Tehran's atomic programme.

The meeting between Iranian negotiator Hassan Rohani, the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana followed Iran's agreement last month to suspend activities that could help make a nuclear bomb.

"Our intention here is (that) through political dialogue we will establish such confidence that there will be no concern left for anyone," Rohani, secretary of Iran's powerful Supreme National Security Council, told a joint news conference on Monday.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who hosted the 90-minute meeting, said a key aim of the talks would be "to provide objective guarantees that Iran's nuclear programme can only be used for peaceful purposes".

Tehran insists that suspension of uranium enrichment and reprocessing was only temporary and warned on Monday it would not give up research and development which the West seeks to terminate to prevent Iran acquiring weapons of mass destruction.

Neither side mentioned the lingering dispute over research work on gas centrifuges at the news conference and EU diplomats said it would be left to working groups that would handle three issues -- nuclear, economic and security.

European ministers earlier voiced caution about the process launched on Monday, watched with a mixture of cautious support and deep suspicion by the United States, which accuses Iran of concealing a secret nuclear weapons programme.

"As long as the voluntary suspension of uranium enrichment is in force, our undertakings are valid," German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said. "We must move forward step-by-step on the basis of realism."

Straw told reporters Iran would have to respect the spirit as well as the letter of the agreement.

PERMANENT CESSATION?

The Europeans hope to turn the temporary halt in Iran's nuclear fuel cycle activities into a permanent cessation in return for trade, aid and security incentives. Many European officials believe only U.S. engagement with Iran and security guarantees can achieve that result in the long term.

But Washington signalled its unwillingness to offer Tehran any carrots by vetoing again Iran's latest EU-supported bid to join the World Trade Organisation on Monday.

The three working groups began their first sessions at the Iranian embassy immediately after the ministerial meeting, tasked with reaching first concrete results within three months.

Rohani said the extent of progress within three months would have a significant impact on the continuation of the initiative.

Diplomats said the Iranians wanted quick results while the Europeans believed the process would take longer.

Comments by Iranian officials in Tehran underlined the difficulty of the task.

Asked if the issue of Iran's development of gas centrifuges for nuclear fuel enrichment would be on the agenda, government spokesman Abdollah Ramazanzadeh said: "There is nothing in any of the nuclear international laws that would limit and stop us from doing research and development. We do not think it will be in the agenda of negotiations."

Ali Aghamohammadi, a senior official of the Supreme National Security Council, said: "The situation is not balanced yet because suspension of uranium enrichment has started in Iran and it is vital for us to change the direction of negotiations towards a point where we can resume uranium enrichment."

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