Middle East

EU's Ashton agrees next Iran nuclear talks Feb 18 with foreign minister

European Commission Vice-President Catherine Ashton listens during a news conference in Riga January 30, 2014. (REUTERS/Ints Kalnins)

MUNICH, Germany: EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton met and agreed Friday with the Iranian foreign minister that the next international talks on Iran's contested nuclear programme will be held February 18, an EU official said.

"We had a really interesting meeting and the most important outcome at this stage is that we have agreed that we will start the talks between the E3+3 and Iran on 18 February ... in Vienna," Ashton said.

"I very much look forward to working together with you then," said Ashton after meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

Ashton has led the international talks with Iran over its nuclear programme which resulted in an initial accord in November.

Iran agreed then with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia, United States plus Germany (known as E3+3)-- that it would open up its nuclear programme so as to allay fears it was seeking atomic weapons.

In return, the world powers agreed to a progressive lifting of tough sanctions which have caused immense damage to the Iranian economy.

Earlier this month, the UN's nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, certified that Tehran had stuck to its side of the initial deal, giving access to key nuclear installations and cutting back its enriched uranium stockpile.

Accordingly, on January 20, the European Union and the United States began lifting sanctions, laying the groundwork for the next, six-month stage of the process.

During this period, the United States and the EU have promised to impose no new sanctions.

Iran has insisted repeatedly that its nuclear programme is peaceful, but in an atmosphere of complete distrust the West applied ever tighter sanctions seriously impacting its economy.

Despite the initial progress, the core of these sanctions remain in place.

The accord provides for their ultimate removal if Iran lives up to all its commitments.





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