Good time for nuclear talks, Iran says

IRAN says late October or early November would be a good time for nuclear talks with the six world powers, and claims it has put an end to Western espionage against its atomic facilities.

“The end of October or early November is a good time for talks between Iran and five-plus-one,” Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said at a news conference with his visiting Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodriguez overnight.

“The exact date, time and what level the talks should be held are being negotiated by both the sides. Once the details are finalised, they will be announced.”

Talks between Iran and Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany have been deadlocked since October 1, 2009, when the two groups met in Geneva.

The talks are aimed at addressing Western suspicions that Iran is seeking to make atomic weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear program, a charge Tehran denies.

In Brussels overnight, a spokesman for the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the six powers in the nuclear talks with Iran, also said it was not yet known when they would resume.

“We’re not in a position to confirm that a date has been set,” spokesman Darren Ennis told AFP. “Mrs Ashton is still ready to talk to Iran and is hopeful that this will be possible.”

On Friday, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Berlin and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have detected signs that Iran was ready to talk about its nuclear program.

Hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had banned talks until the middle of September after Tehran was hit with new UN sanctions on June 9.

Iranian officials have regularly insisted that during any talks Tehran would reiterate that its nuclear rights be recognised.

The Islamic republic’s atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi, meanwhile, said Western spying on its nuclear facilities had been thwarted by Tehran ensuring that its physicists and engineers are better looked after.

Salehi said that in the past Western countries had lured Iranian nuclear specialists abroad “with offers of better education or jobs outside Iran”, the Fars new agency reported.

“People who fell for it in the past unfortunately leaked information abroad,” it quoted him as saying.

“But the (Iranian Atomic Energy) Organisation has been able to gain the trust of its engineers and address their concerns, so they can continue to work in the organisation without any concerns.”

This was not the first Iranian admission of Western or Israeli espionage against its nuclear program. It has arrested several suspected spies in the past, and prosecutors generally seek the death penalty for those convicted.

Last week, Intelligence Minister Heydar Moslehi said several “nuclear spies” working to derail Iran’s nuclear program through cyberspace had been arrested.

His remarks came after reports that the Stuxnet Internet worm was mutating and wreaking havoc on computerised industrial equipment in Iran.

Analysts believe the virus may have been designed to target Iranian nuclear facilities, especially the Russian-built power plant in the southern city of Bushehr.