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Iran says seeks end to sanctions at talks with world powers

03 May, 2012

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VIENNA: Iran said on Wednesday it was seeking an end to Western sanctions over its arms programme during talks with world powers and criticised France for helping Israel, the only country in the Middle East widely believed to have atomic weapons.

An adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the talks in Baghdad on May 23 should lead to the lifting of sanctions, according to Iranian media. The comments reflect increasing emphasis in the Islamic Republic that an end to sanctions is vital to the success of the talks. It was also the first time an influential political figure explicitly said he expects progress on the issue. "At the least, our expectation is the lifting of sanctions," Gholam-Ali Haddad Adel said in answer to a question.

The United States and its allies say Iran's nuclear programme is a cover for developing atomic weapons, a charge Tehran denies. They have imposed new sanctions against Iran's energy and banking sectors since the beginning of this year and the European Union is set to impose a total embargo on the purchase of Iranian crude oil in July.

In Vienna, Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mahdi Akhondzadeh sought to turn the tables on the Western powers. He said nuclear weapons had no place in Iran's defence doctrine, and accused "certain" states of double standards. He took aim at France, a key player in tightening sanctions on Iran, and said it had "spared no effort" in helping Isreal - widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed state in the Middle East. He did not elaborate. "The existence of nuclear weapons in the hands of Israel continues to pose the gravest threat to the stability and security" in the Middle East, Akhondzadeh said.

Israel neither confirms nor denies it has nuclear weapons, under an ambiguity designed to deter regional foes but avoid arms races. The United States and Israel regard Iran's nuclear ambitions as the main threat in the volatile region, prompting persistent speculation they might attack its atomic sites if diplomacy fails to resolve the dispute. Akhondzadeh said the existence of nearly 23,000 nuclear warheads in the world and their continued modernisation was the "most serious threat to the survival of mankind." The nuclear weapon states should agree a target date for "the total elimination" of their atomic arsenals, he said. The five recognised nuclear weapon states are the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain.

Akhondzadeh said Iran was optimistic about progress in the talks in Baghdad, but it will never give up its right to the peaceful use of atomic energy. "We continue to be optimistic about upcoming negotiations," Akhondzadeh said in a speech to a nuclear non-proliferation conference in Vienna, attended also by Western states. But he added: "There should be no doubt that the great nation of Iran will never abandon exercising its inalienable right to peaceful use of nuclear energy and technology." The talks with the United States, Russia, China, Germany, France and Britain resumed in mid-April in Istanbul after more than a year - a chance for the powers and Iran to halt a deterioration in diplomacy and help avert the threat of a new Middle East war.

Japan's Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba has urged Israel to exercise "patience" on Iran's nuclear programme and give sanctions a chance to work, his spokesman said on Wednesday.

Gemba, who arrived in Israel on Tuesday, met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and on Wednesday held talks with Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad in the West Bank city ofXRamallah.

End.

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