Iran sent encouraging signals Monday on the posture it will take at nuclear talks with six world powers later this week, dropping objections to meeting in Istanbul and hinting at a possible compromise on its uranium enrichment program that Western powers fear is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
But Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi also warned against “preconditions” being set for the first talks on Iran’s nuclear capabilities since previous discussions collapsed more than 14 months ago.
Demands that Iran scale back uranium enrichment intensified last week after a parliament member, Gholam Reza Mesbahi Moghadam, boasted that Tehran already has the capacity to produce nuclear weapons but didn't plan to do so.
Iran had complained last week that Istanbul wasn't an appropriate venue for talks with the "5+1 powers" -- the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, lashed out at Turkey's apparent sympathies for rebels fighting against the Syrian government of Bashar Assad, with whom Iran is politically aligned.
Early Monday, Iran's Supreme National Security Council announced without elaboration that the talks would begin Saturday in Istanbul and that a second round was set for Baghdad. No date was given for the meeting in the Iraqi capital.
In an apparent overture ahead of the talks, the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization told state television Sunday that the country didn't need to enrich uranium above the 20% level needed to produce energy for domestic consumption and medical research. Weapons-grade uranium needs to be enriched to 90%, but the stockpiles of 20% enriched uranium could be upgraded within a matter of months.
Once Iran has processed enough enriched uranium for its domestic needs, "we will decrease production, and it is even possible to completely reverse to only 3.5%” enrichment levels, nuclear chief Fereidoun Abbasi told state television.
Foreign Minister Salehi weighed in later with his warning about the six powers setting conditions for the talks. His warning was in response to calls for Iran to cease enriching uranium to levels that can be upgraded to weapons-making quality and for the Iranian government to idle its Fordo nuclear plant near the holy city of Qom.
"Setting conditions before the meeting means drawing conclusions, which is completely meaningless, and none of the parties will accept conditions set before the talks," Salehi was quoted as saying by the Iranian parliamentary news agency.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton last week called on Tehran to demonstrate that its claimed rejection of nuclear weapons was "not an abstract belief but ... a government policy."
Clinton said Iran could prove its sincerity about wanting nuclear energy solely for peaceful purposes by ending the enrichment of uranium to 20%, shipping what stockpiles of enriched uranium it has out of the country and opening its nuclear facilities to "constant inspections and verifications."
The United States, which is a permanent member of the Security Council along with China, Russia, France and Britain, will be represented at the Istanbul talks by the State Department's third-ranking diplomat, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman.
-- Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles
Photo: Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi warned Monday that preconditions to nuclear talks would render them "meaningless."