TEHRAN, April 4 (BSS/AFP) - Crucial nuclear talks due to take place next week between Iran and world powers have run into disagreement over the host city, with Tehran on Wednesday saying it no longer wants Istanbul as the venue.
Instead, according to Iraq's foreign ministry, Iran has formally requested Baghdad hold the April 13-14 negotiations.
That contradicts a declaration by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last weekend that the talks would be held on those dates in Istanbul -- the Turkish city Iran had initially proposed as its favoured option.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi stressed on Wednesday that "this issue has to be agreed on by both sides," explaining that "Baghdad and also China were proposed" as venues, according to the website of Iranian state television.
The down-to-the-wire wrangling over the location was a sign
of the high- stakes negotiating positions being staked out ahead
of the talks involving Iran and the P5+1 group comprising the
five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany.
Iran's sudden about-face on Istanbul also hinted at
animosity towards Turkey over its position on Syria, the Islamic
republic's principal ally in the Middle East.
Turkey, which has called for Syrian President Bashar al-
Assad to step down to end the year-long bloody strife in his
country, on Sunday hosted a rebel- friendly "Friends of Syria"
conference criticised by Tehran.
Turkey, a NATO member, has also slowly joined a US-imposed
sanctions push to cut purchases of Iranian oil.
"Turkey is now excluded," Aladin Borujerdi, the head of the
Iranian parliament's foreign affairs commission, told the Iranian
"That is the position of parliament and the government. We
have proposed Baghdad, and if the other side accepts, it will be
Baghdad," he said.
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast,
speaking to the state newspaper IRAN, alluded to perceived
hypocrisy by Turkey on Syria.
"You can't close your eyes to the legitimate demands of the
people in Bahrain and Yemen and try to defend the demands of the
Syrian people," he said.
Salehi, who said several times last month that Istanbul
would be the "best place" for the Iran/P5+1 talks, on Wednesday
explained: "Holding negotiations in Istanbul was our preliminary
suggestion which the Europeans first rejected and later accepted.
But by that time we had other countries in mind."
He added: "More important than the date and the venue is the
topic of discussions. And I think that the upcoming talks,
compared to the ones in the past, will be better and progress
will be made."
The last round of talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1
group was held in Istanbul in January 2011 and ended in failure.
The new round of negotiations is seen as an important
opportunity to lower tensions over Iran's nuclear programme that
have been coloured by threats from Israel and the United States
of military action.
Washington and its allies believe Iran's nuclear activities
include a drive towards atomic weapons capability and have
imposed a raft of sanctions to punish Tehran.
Iran denies there is any military component to its programme
and says it will not bow to sanctions pressure.
Iraq's foreign ministry issued a statement saying an Iranian
delegation led by deputy nuclear negotiator Ali Baqeri "expressed
the desire for Iraq to host the international meeting on the
Iranian nuclear file."
It said it "welcomed the Iranian proposal" and Iranian
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari "confirmed that he will undertake
the necessary contacts with the relevant parties on the
If agreement were reached to hold the talks in the Iraqi
capital, the date for the talks would be "April 14, 2012," it
After Clinton last Saturday said the talks would take place
April 13 and 14 in Istanbul, EU diplomats cautioned the venue was
still under discussion.
Russia also said on Monday that "the date and the place of
the meeting have not been definitively set."
Clinton on Tuesday seemed to step away from her announcement
somewhat, saying that she expected the talks "will commence
within the next several weeks."
She added: "We're hoping that there will be a path forward
that gives the Iranians a reason to believe that it is in their
national interest not to pursue their nuclear programme."