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Iran proposes talks on Nov. 23 or Dec. 5

By Glenn Kessler

Amid a swirl of speculation that talks on Iran's nuclear program will start soon, a senior Iranian official has proposed a date and a venue in a new letter to the European Union's foreign policy chief, an E.U. official said Tuesday.

Though reports out of Iran suggested the talks could begin as soon as next Monday, the letter appears to suggest a date further in the future.

The E.U. official declined to discuss the details of the letter -- which was written by Saeed Jalili, the chief Iranian negotiator and the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council -- until it had been discussed with other members of the the negotiating group. The United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany have been negotiating with Iran but the talks have been on hold for more than a year.

The E.U.'s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, had proposed Vienna as a site for the talks but Iran has pushed for Turkey to host them. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the talks would be held in Istanbul but no firm date has been set, according to the Anatolia News Agency.

Iranian officials, however, have publicly insisted they will not discuss their uranium enrichment program -- which is what the United States and its partners want to focus on. "Iran's talks with [the six powers] will not be about Iran's nuclear issue at all," the ISNA news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying on Tuesday.

The E.U. official said Ashton would respond to Iran in the next few days.

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UPDATE:

According to a copy of the letter seen by The Washington Post, Iran has proposed meeting in Istanbul on either Nov. 23 or Dec. 5. The letter was written by Seyyed Kazem Ebadi, head of Jalili's office.

Ashton had proposed three days of talks, starting with a get-to-know-you dinner. It is unclear if the Iranian side has accepted the concept of three days of talks or is proposing to meet on a single day.

A Western diplomat said, however, that Istanbul is a non-starter as a venue because it would bring Turkey into the talks, making an unwieldy format even more cumbersome. The United States and its partners will instead press for Geneva or Vienna as the location for the discussions.

By Glenn Kessler  | November 9, 2010; 11:58 AM ET
 
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