Venue yet to be decided. We prefer Istanbul, says Tehran

Long-stalled talks between Iran and world powers are to be revived on April 13 at a place yet to be agreed, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi announced on Wednesday.

“The date has been set, but the negotiations for the venue are still ongoing,” Mr. Salehi told AFP.

“Turkey has announced its readiness to host the talks, and my personal priority is Istanbul,” he added.

The talks carry hopes of defusing a tense international showdown over Iran's nuclear activities that has sent oil prices soaring.

Israel has brandished the threat of possible military action against Iran's nuclear sites, while the United States has put its energies into sanctions and diplomacy but has not ruled out the military option.

Mr. Salehi made his announcement as he welcomed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Tehran for a two-day visit focusing on Iran's nuclear programme and bilateral ties.

On Mr. Erdogan's arrival, Mr. Salehi told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that the next round of the talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group comprising the U.S., Russia, France, Britain, China and Germany would take place on April 13.

In Brussels, a European diplomat confirmed to AFP that the next round of negotiations would start on April 13 but that a location had not yet been agreed.

Mr. Salehi said a “suggestion” from the P5+1 for a venue had been received and was being studied, and that the location “will be announced soon”.

He did not say what venue had been proposed by the world powers.

The last round, held in Istanbul in 2011, ended in failure. The round before that, in 2010, was in Geneva. — AFP

Fund for Iron Dome

AP reports from Washington:

The Pentagon will press Congress for more money for Israel's Iron Dome system designed to intercept short-range rockets and mortars, a boost for Israel as the Obama administration tries to dissuade the West Asia ally from launching a potential unilateral strike on Iran.

Tuesday's announcement from the Pentagon also comes as Mr. Obama has faced election-year criticism from Republican presidential candidates and lawmakers that administration support for a longtime friend has been inadequate.

“Supporting the security of the state of Israel is a top priority of President Obama and Secretary [Leon] Panetta,” said Pentagon press secretary George Little in a statement.

The Pentagon cited the effectiveness of the system, which in recent weeks intercepted more than 80 per cent of the nearly 300 rockets and mortars fired by Palestinian militants from Gaza at southern Israel.

In a special request in the 2011 budget, the Obama administration and Congress agreed on $205 million for the Iron Dome system.

The current budget included no funds for the programme, but provided millions for other Israeli missile defence programmes.

Mr. Obama's budget for next year calls for $3.1 billion in military assistance for Israel, a slight increase over the current level and the most for any foreign country.

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