West, EU reject Iran’s choice of N-talks venue
VIENNA WITH nine days to go, Iran still has not agreed on a location for talks with world powers over its nuclear programme, Western officials said on Wednesday but suggested Istanbul remained the most likely venue.
The officials – from the European Union and a Western country that will be at the planned meeting – dismissed calls from Tehran to hold the meeting in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon or China as brinkmanship.
Iran’s suggestions of alternative sites raised the possibility of complications to get talks under way as expected on April 13 between Iran and envoys from the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany. It also could bring accusations of stall tactics by Iran’s leaders.
Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said on Wednesday that Istanbul was Iran’s first choice as a venue. It has now been publicly cited by the US and others as the site of the talks. But Salehi appeared to leave open the possibility, however small, that the negotiations could shift to another location.
“Holding talks in Baghdad, and also China, as venue has been out there,” Salehi told reporters after a Cabinet meeting in Tehran. “This is a course that both sides need to agree on ... Istanbul was our initial proposal as the venue for the talks. The Europeans initially rejected but then agreed. At the same time, we had other countries in mind.” The possibility of other locations also was raised by Mohsen Rezaei, a former Revolutionary Guard commander and now spokesman of Iran’s Expediency Council.
On Monday, he suggested Baghdad, Damascus, or Beirut, Lebanon.
His comments reflected frustration with Turkey, a recent ally that has moved to reduce critical oil shipments from Iran and agreed to host a NATO defense shield radar that would send a warning if the Islamic Republic fires missiles.
Iran and Turkey also disagree on how to end the conflict in Syria, with Tehran rejecting Turkish calls that Syrian President Bashar Assad step aside.
“Given that our Turkish friends reneged on some agreements, it is better that Iran’s talks ... are held in a friendly country. Therefore, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut are better venues for holding the talks compared to Istanbul,” the semiofficial Fars news agency quoted Rezaei as saying.
Justifying his position, he reportedly said that the five powers planning to meet Iran “should not feel that Iran is in a weak position.” Iran is a Shiite theocracy and has strong ties with the Shiite or allied majorities controlling Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, while China has staunchly opposed increasing sanctions on Tehran to force it to compromise on its nuclear program.
Rezaei is not part of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government and his views don’t represent Iran’s official position. But the Expediency Council is an advisory body on key issues to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton is coordinating the planned talks, and an EU official said Wednesday there was some concern of a delay as the April 13 date nears.
He and a diplomat from one of the six countries said, however, that the talks would likely go ahead as planned in Istanbul, or possibly another venue in Switzerland, nothing that Iran has not formally proposed any alternate locations to Ashton’s team.