(Reuters) – Iran will be ready to hold negotiations with world powers on its nuclear program after the month of Ramadan ends in early September, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Sunday.
Separately, Mottaki said technical discussions could begin immediately in Vienna on the details of a proposed nuclear fuel swap and a letter to this effect would be delivered to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Monday.
The West fears Iran’s secretive uranium enrichment program is a veiled quest to develop nuclear weapons capability. Tehran denies this, saying it seeks only electricity from enrichment so it can export more of its oil wealth.
Mottaki said the talks after Ramadan would be between Tehran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France — as well as Germany (P5+1) who have been locked in a protracted standoff with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.
“That belongs to 5+1 with Iran,” he said of the talks.
Earlier on Sunday, Mottaki met the foreign ministers of Turkey and Brazil, their first meeting since the three struck a tentative swap accord in May that failed to prevent fresh U.N. sanctions against Iran.
Brazil and Turkey have characterized the proposed fuel deal as a way to build confidence for the broader negotiations involving the six world powers, represented for now by the EU’s foreign policy chief, on an overall nuclear settlement.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said earlier Mottaki had confirmed Iran was ready to start negotiations with Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign affairs chief.
Ashton wrote to Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili last month inviting him to resume negotiations. The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan ends in the first half of September.
Iran agreed in May to send some of its enrichment uranium stockpile abroad in exchange for medical reactor fuel, reviving a deal in principle which the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, brokered in October, only to see Tehran back out of it.
The May accord, which has not been carried out, failed to prevent fresh sanctions from the United Nations, European Union and United States adopted over the past two months.
But Davutoglu has said he still saw a chance of Iran carrying out the swap on the basis of their agreement and said Iran would propose in its letter to the IAEA that “technical negotiations” begin as soon as possible.
Under the May deal, Iran agreed to transfer 1,200 kg (2,646 lb) of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Turkey within a month and in return receive, within a year, 120 kg of 20 percent-enriched uranium to keep Tehran’s medical research reactor running.
But Western diplomats have dismissed the revived plan.
They said that removing from Iran 1,200 kg — enough, if highly enriched, to make an atom bomb — was less significant than when it was first brokered in October because Iran’s LEU stockpile had doubled in the interim.
At the time of the original October pact, 1,200 kg comprised about 70 percent of Iran’s known LEU reserve.
The Security Council imposed a fourth round of sanctions on Iran in June. Brazil and Turkey voted against, irked by the West’s dismissal of their deal which they said obviated the need for any more sanctions.
(Reporting by Simon Cameron-Moore, writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Jon Boyle)