EU offers Dec. 5 meeting with Iran

/ Source: The Associated Press

The European Union offered Friday to meet with Iran on Dec. 5 to discuss Tehran's nuclear program.

In a letter to Iran obtained by The Associated Press, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton rejects Tehran's preference for a meeting in Istanbul, where Iran would have Turkish allies on the sidelines.

The letter suggests that after discussions with the six-nation group of negotiators — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — the meeting be held in Vienna or Switzerland.

The EU says in the letter it wants "a full and in-depth exchange of views concerning the Iranian nuclear program."

Whether Iran is will to reopen talks is unclear. Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday that his country won't talk about what it insists is its right to continue nuclear activities.

The meeting would be between Ashton and Iran's top negotiator, Dr. Saeed Jalili, and the six nations would be represented by lower-level negotiators.

The talks would be the first in a year after negotiations bogged down over Tehran's disputed nuclear program. The U.S. and some of its allies suspect Iran's civil nuclear energy program is a cover for a secret effort to develop weapons.

They are pushing Tehran to fully open all facilities to international inspection and to give up uranium enrichment, a key element of its nuclear work that could give it a pathway to the bomb. Iran says it has a right to enrich uranium for producing nuclear fuel.

The EU and others have rejected having talks in Istanbul because it does not feel the need for another regional power to get involved at this stage, said a European diplomat who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject.

"As far as the venue is concerned, holding the meeting in Istanbul is not possible," the EU letter said. Ashton was called for a three-day meeting to be concluded with a press conference.

Negotiations foundered a year ago over a U.N.-drafted proposal for Iran to ship most of its stockpile of enriched uranium abroad for further processing and to be returned in the form of fuel rods for a Tehran research reactor that makes isotopes used in cancer treatment.