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Updated: January 21, 2011 21:48 IST

Iran says Istanbul talks held in "positive atmosphere"

Atul Aneja
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Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili. File photo: AP.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili. File photo: AP.

With both sides downplaying expectations of a breakthrough, Iran has said that its first round of talks in Istanbul with the global powers on Friday morning had been held in a “positive atmosphere”.

In a symbolic assertion, Saeed Jalili, the leader of the Iranian delegation and Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu participated in the afternoon Friday prayers, Iran’s state-run Press TV reported. “(Mr.) Jalili was warmly welcomed by Turkish worshippers in Istanbul's Sultan Ahmed Mosque, who circled around him and chanted slogans against Israel and the United States,” Press TV said.

The European foreign policy chief, Catharine Ashton is leading a delegation, which has representatives from the United States, Russia, China, Britain France and Germany. The two-day talks are expected to end on Saturday. After Friday prayers, Mr. Jalili held separate meetings with all the delegate heads, before participating in another round of talks in the evening, Iran’s Fars News Agency (FNA) reported. According to FNA, bilateral talks between Mr. Jalili and Ms. Ashton are also slated.

Earlier, U.S. state department spokesman Mark Toner said Washington was "not expecting any big breakthroughs".

He said the objective was to launch a "constructive process" which would see Iran "engaging and addressing the international community's concerns about its nuclear programme".

On their part, the Iranians have said that they were inclined to cover a broader international political agenda, rather than go into the nitty-gritty of their nuclear programme. "We want to discuss the fundamental problems of global politics at the Istanbul talks," Mr. Jalili said ahead of the dialogue.

Nevertheless, analysts say that a possible nuclear swap deal could be covered in some depth during the current round of talks. The Tehran declaration of May 2010, which followed active mediation by Turkey and Brazil, contains the broad parameters of a nuclear deal involving the transfers abroad of Iran’s lightly enriched uranium stocks, in return for 20 per cent enriched nuclear fuel rods required to run a Tehran medical reactor. Observers say the key question regarding the nuclear swap that could be addressed is: What should be the quantity of low enriched uranium that Iran needs to send abroad, to enable a swap arrangement to work? Western diplomats have been saying that only a limited amount, which would be insufficient to make a bomb, should be left behind inside Iran. The rest should be transferred abroad.

In a related development, Ali-Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) asserted on the eve of Istanbul talks that Iran would not halt nuclear enrichment, as demanded by the six global powers. Addressing a press conference on Thursday in Moscow, Mr. Soltanieh said: “We will not implement the UN Security Council resolutions under any condition and will not halt the enrichment process even for a single moment.”

However, he added that Iran will continue cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

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