EU tries for February nuclear talks after Iranian stalling

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Ali Akbar Velayati, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's top adviser on international affairs, attends a news conference in DamascusNegotiators have proposed new dates in February for nuclear talks with Iran, after Iran did not accept repeated invitations to meet six world powers next week in Istanbul, European diplomats said Saturday. Meantime, a top aide to the Supreme Leader vowed Saturday that Iran won’t give up its right to peaceful nuclear energy, and said that the Leader remains adamantly opposed to direct talks between the United States and Iran.

“The nuclear issue is our strategic issue. The Islamic republic of Iran will never give up its right to peaceful nuclear energy,” Ali-Akbar Velayati, the former Iranian foreign minister and top foreign policy advisor to Iranian Supreme Leader Khamenei, was cited in an interview with Mehr News on Saturday.

The United States should “definitely make a revision in its policies” towards Iran’s nuclear program, Velayati said. He also dismissed the likelihood of future American military action against Iran’s nuclear program, saying “today, the United States is weaker than the time when it attacked Iraq and Afghanistan, and Iran is currently far stronger than Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The defiant comments from Khamenei’s longtime close aide and prospective Iranian presidential candidate come as Iran has been stalling international efforts to resume nuclear negotiations that have been on hiatus since last summer.

“As Iran did not accept the offer to go to Istanbul on January 28-29 we have offered new dates in February,” Michael Mann, spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said in an email Saturday.

“We are disappointed that we have so far not managed to agree on a meeting,” he continued. “We on our side showed flexibility when it came to date and venue, while Iran has been putting forward time and again new conditions, which amounted to delaying tactics.”

Iran on Friday blamed the P5+1 for the meeting’s delay, saying the six powers were apparently “not ready yet.” (A charge the EU said was “nonsense,” and another frustrating sign of Iranian reluctance to resume nuclear talks.)

Iranian sources say that Iran has been seeking to see the P5+1 package in advance of the meeting and trying to get it preemptively improved. At the same time, Iran does not want to appear that sanctions have been so effective that it is in any rush to get back to the table, Iranian analysts said.

The six world powers are “still hopeful to agree on a next round soon in order to allow for focusing again on the substance of the issue at stake,” Mann said.

(Photo: Ali Akbar Velayati, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s top adviser on international affairs, attends a news conference at the Iranian embassy in Damascus August 9, 2010. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri.)