Iran proposes Iraq, China as nuke talks venue

April 4, 2012 - 5:26 AM

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's foreign minister said Istanbul remains an acceptable location for talks with world powers over Tehran's nuclear program, but noted Wednesday that his country has proposed other venues — such as Iraq or China — for the negotiations scheduled to start next week.

The suggestions of alternative sites raised the possibility of complications to get talks under way as expected on April 13 between Iran and envoys from the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany. It also could bring accusations of stall tactics by Iran's leaders.

Iran's foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Istanbul was Iran's first choice as a venue. It has now been publicly cited by the U.S. and others as the site of the talks.

But Salehi appeared to leave open the possibility, however small, that the negotiations could shift to another location.

"Holding talks in Baghdad, and also China, as venue has been out there," Salehi told reporters after a Cabinet meeting in Tehran. "This is a course that both sides need to agree on ... Istanbul was our initial proposal as the venue for the talks. The Europeans initially rejected but then agreed. At the same time, we had other countries in mind."

Salehi noted that the content of the talks is "more important than the venue and timing."

"I think the future talks, compared to the past, will hopefully be better and forward steps will be taken," he said.

Talks broke down in January 2011 over Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment in exchange for reactor-ready fuel from abroad. The West and others fear Iran could use its ability to make nuclear fuel as the foundation for an eventual atomic weapons program. Iran insists it only seeks nuclear power for energy and medical research.

In Baghdad, Iraq's foreign ministry said late Tuesday that Baghdad was proposed as a venue for talks during a meeting between an Iranian delegation and Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari. It said Zebari welcomed the proposal and promised to make the "necessary contacts" with relevant international parties.

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the talks would take place in Istanbul.

Iran's relationship with Turkey, however, has been strained recently by Turkish pressures on Syrian President Bashar Assad, a vital ally for Tehran. Clinton and other leaders met this week in Istanbul to seek ways to aid the Syrian opposition in their year-old rebellion against Assad's regime.

Iran has close ties with the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. China remains a key trade partner and has strongly opposed Western sanctions targeting Iran's critical oil exports.

Clinton said the proposed talks would not be "an open-ended session" and made clear that time is running out for a diplomatic accord over Iran's nuclear ambitions. The negotiations also have taken on urgency amid speculation that Israel or the U.S. could take military action against Iran later this year.

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Associated Press writer Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.