World powers, Iran seek to break nuclear talks deadlock

ALMATY, Kazakhstan (AFP) - Iran and world powers met on Saturday for the second and final day of new talks aimed at breaking a decade-old deadlock over Teheran's nuclear drive, with the clock again ticking down again on efforts to find a solution.

The two sides held an indecisive first day of negotiations in the Kazakh city of Almaty on Friday that ended with only an agreement to meet again and Western officials admitting the positions were still far apart.

They most notably failed to resolve the main issue on the table - whether Iran will accept some demands concerning its nuclear programme in return for relief on the sanctions that have hurt the Islamic republic's economy in the past two years.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton started the day on Saturday by meeting chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili.

"During Ms Ashton and Dr Saeed Jalili's meeting this morning the latest situation of the negotiations and different aspects of each side's stances were discussed in detail," said an Iranian official.

"The sides also exchanged views on ways to progress along the path of negotiations," said the official.

The Iranian delegation also met separately with French and Chinese diplomats before all sides went into a full plenary session that is expected to conclude the Almaty talks.

Iran resolutely insists on international recognition of its right to enrich uranium and wants that condition be a part of any deal.

The world powers on the other hand say the onus is on Iran to take the first step. They insist on it ending enrichment to high levels and shuttering the Fordo mountain bunker where such activity takes place before any recognition for Iran's nuclear rights are granted.

The talks concluded on Friday after two plenary sessions lasting a combined six hours with Iran answering a series of questions about its list of demands.

A Western official said the two sides still had strongly differing visions of ways to solve the dispute.

"We had a long and substantial discussion on the issues, but we remain a long way apart on the substance," the Western official said after Friday's talks.

"We are now evaluating the situation and will meet again tomorrow (Saturday)." Russian negotiator Sergei Ryabkov summed up the day by saying that the difficulty at the talks proved their seriousness.

"The answers prompted more questions," Russian news agencies quoted Mr Ryabkov as saying. "But this proves that these talks are serious."

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland also sought to sound upbeat. "They were talking about the real issues at hand, which, as you know, has not always been the case," she told reporters in Washington.

"But that's a different matter than whether they actually made progress that we can report yet."

Iran in particular wants to see an end to the biting sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States. The sanctions limit the Islamic republic's banking activities, cutting the amount of cash it can get for the oil it still manages to sell abroad.

The powers - comprised of the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany and known collectively as the P5+1 - argue that such a sweeping gesture does not correspond with their persistent concerns over the possible military dimensions of Iran's work.

The P5+1 grouping is particularly worried about Iran's enrichment to levels of up to 20 per cent and want Iran to ship out its existing stockpile of 20 per cent enriched material.

Iran denies it is developing the atomic bomb and argues that it needs its nuclear programme for peaceful medical and energy needs.

Iran has reportedly been offered the right to deal in some precious metals and perform small financial transactions now prohibited by international sanctions. Teheran says it is being asked too much for too little in return.

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