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Swiss call for new Iran nuclear talks

Iran's Ali Larijani said some progress had been made during talks in Bern Keystone

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has held informal discussions with Iran's national security chief Ali Larijani over his country's atomic programme.

This content was published on February 12, 2007 - 22:01

But no details were given about the talks in Bern, and it is not clear whether Switzerland submitted a proposal to bring the Iranians back to the negotiating table.

"The meeting provided an opportunity to exchange views and information on the Iran's nuclear programme as well as on a number of other current international issues," said Swiss foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Philippe Jeannerat on Monday.

Jeannerat declined to elaborate on what proposals neutral Switzerland might make as an intermediary in the dispute over an atomic programme that Iran insists is solely for peaceful purposes.

According to a foreign ministry statement, Calmy-Rey reminded Larijani that Switzerland recognises the right of every state to use nuclear technology for peaceful uses, but also rejects any form of proliferation of this technology.

The foreign minister called on the Iranians to be as transparent as possible about the aims of their nuclear programme and to resume international negotiations. The United States, which Switzerland represents in Tehran, and some of its allies have accused Iran of secretly developing atomic weapons.

"In some areas there was progress. But some other areas remain open for discussion," Larijani said after the meeting. He did not give any details of his talks with Calmy-Rey.

The Swiss foreign minister refused to comment on the meeting, saying only "the position of Switzerland on the nuclear question is known." There has been no indication from the Swiss government that it has made a proposal regarding the nuclear standoff.

Swiss proposal

However earlier in the day, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said that if Switzerland's proposed plan guarantees Iran's right to nuclear technology, it would be examined. He added that details of the Swiss plan had yet to be revealed and would have to be examined when available.

Western diplomats in Brussels have hinted that Switzerland may have passed on a proposal from European nations, including Germany, offering a compromise on the standoff.

Iran would be able to keep its uranium enrichment facilities, but would also suspend enrichment, a potential pathway to developing nuclear arms for the time being. Compensation would be offered in exchange for Iranian cooperation.

The former Swiss ambassador to Iran, Tim Guldimann, and the previous head of the International Atomic Energy agency, Bruno Pellaud, had proposed a compromise solution as early as 2005. In exchange of stricter international controls, Tehran would have been able to pursue limited enrichment of uranium.

On Monday, the European Union foreign ministers' council approved plans for implementing United Nations sanctions against Iran, a move that is meant to punish Tehran over its refusal to halt enrichment.

But the council also gave Iran two months to return to the negotiating table. Talks collapsed a year ago.

EU officials met on Sunday in Munich, Germany, with Larijani, the first discussions since talks collapsed. The Iranian security chief told a security conference in the Bavarian capital that his country was ready to restart negotiations with the international community, but said it would not suspend its nuclear programme as a precondition for talks.

swissinfo with agencies

Under close watch

The international community suspects Iran would like to build its own nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian atomic programme.

It is a wish the Iranians have expressed since the 1970s, under the Shah's regime.

The United Nations Security Council has already voted two resolutions demanding Iran suspend uranium enrichment, demands the Islamic Republic has refused to accept.

The Security Council adopted a series of sanctions against Iran in December. Tehran could face further measures if it does not suspend enrichment by February 21.

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