Geneva: Six world powers began their first talks with Iran in more than a year on Monday, hoping the meeting will lead to new negotiations over a nuclear program the West believes is aimed at making atomic bombs.
On the eve of the meeting in Geneva, Iran announced what it called a major step forward in its nuclear work, signaling it is not about to back down in a long-running battle over what it insists are peaceful plans for energy production.
The six powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- played down expectations of a major breakthrough during the Dec 6-7 discussions. Diplomats said an agreement to meet again for more substantial talks, perhaps early next year, would be a sign of progress
"The talks just began," said a Western official, shortly after Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is leading the talks on behalf of the six powers, arrived at a Geneva conference center.
Western powers want Iran to suspend uranium enrichment activity, which can produce fuel for nuclear power reactors or provide material for bombs if refined to a higher degree.
A European official said the six powers expected Iran to shed light on questions about its nuclear program that had so far gone unanswered.
"The choices are clear for Iran: it can face growing isolation or cooperate," the official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.
Jalili said Iran was taking the negotiations seriously.
"We hope to have very good talks and we hope to have useful straightforward and transparent talks," he told Iranian state television.
But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said enrichment was not on the agenda at Geneva.
"Any issue related to Iran`s nuclear activities should be resolved in the framework of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency)," Ali Baqeri, deputy head of Iran`s delegation, told Reuters.
The West has tightened sanctions on Iran in recent months, and Western diplomats say these are hurting Iran`s oil-dependent economy. Tehran denies the measures are having any effect.
The United States has warned of more pressure and isolation if Tehran continues its uranium enrichment activities. Washington says all options, including military, remain on the table and Iran`s arch enemy Israel has also not ruled out a military strike if diplomatic efforts fail.