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West sees enough substance for Iran talks to continue

Participants from the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany prepare to start talks with Iranian negotiators in Almaty April 5, 20
Participants from the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany prepare to start talks with Iranian negotiators in Almaty April 5, 20

By Justyna Pawlak

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - World powers believe there are enough grounds to keep talking to Iran about its disputed nuclear program, a senior Western diplomat said on Monday, even though the latest round of negotiations made little apparent progress.

"There is enough substance for these negotiations to continue," the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told reporters. "I would not expect a breakdown."

At a meeting in the Kazakh city of Almaty on Friday and Saturday, the six nations - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - tried to persuade Iran to give up its most sensitive uranium-enrichment work to allay concerns that Tehran is seeking the means to make atom bombs.

Iranian negotiators did not accept the offer - coupled with a pledge of modest relief from crippling economic sanctions - and the two sides failed to even agree to meet again.

But Western diplomats are at pains to show that diplomacy will continue, in part to avoid escalating tensions with Israel which has threatened to bomb Iranian nuclear sites if negotiations and sanctions fail to force it to change course.

They are wary, however, of fuelling criticism that Iran may be playing them for time. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday the negotiation process could not go forever.

"We are clear talks for (the sake of) talks are not acceptable," the senior diplomat added.

Some Western diplomats have said that while the two sides failed to bridge their differences in the decade-old dispute in Almaty, there was some optimism because of the apparent willingness of Iranian negotiators to engage in detailed discussions of their proposal.

Iran denies having any military intentions and says it needs nuclear power to generate electricity and for medical purposes. It wants the international community to recognize its right to enrich uranium and lift major economic sanctions.

The powers argue international rules apply only to countries that subject their nuclear work to stringent oversight by the United Nations, something Iran refuses to do.

Following the failure of Almaty talks, the six powers are seeking to reassess their approach to persuade the Iranian side to agree. In the coming days, the issue will come up during a meeting of foreign ministers of Group of Eight countries, which include all the six powers except China.

The EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who oversees diplomatic contacts with Iran on behalf of the six nations, will also discuss plans for further engagement with Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili in the coming days.

Iran's presidential election in June also fuels uncertainty abroad over Tehran's short-term approach to the nuclear dispute.

In Brussels, the senior diplomat said a lack of clarity on presidential candidates, for example, clouded the understanding of Iran's domestic politics.

"The internal power struggle has an impact on negotiations," the diplomat said. "The internal tensions have an influence on a process such as negotiations but we don't even know who the candidates will be."

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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