Iran says January nuclear talks historic opportunity

ISTANBUL Fri Dec 24, 2010 1:01am IST

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad smiles as he addresses the media during a news conference in Istanbul December 23, 2010. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad smiles as he addresses the media during a news conference in Istanbul December 23, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Umit Bektas

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday talks with major powers in Istanbul next month would be a historic opportunity to resolve the nuclear dispute if the West dropped what he called its policy of confrontation.

Iran's agreement to hold the Istanbul talks over its nuclear programme with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States was the only tangible result of a meeting in Geneva this month. But hopes for a breakthrough are slight.

"We hope the Istanbul meeting becomes a good meeting with lasting results," Ahmadinejad told a news conference in Istanbul at the close of a regional summit ahead of the January talks.

"It will be a very important meeting ... an historic opportunity to change (the policy of) confrontation to interaction and cooperation ... It will be in everybody's interest," he said.

The United Nations imposed a fourth set of sanctions on Iran in June over Iran's refusal to halt the enrichment of uranium. The United States and European Union followed up by adding their own sanctions targeting financial transactions with Iran and the country's vital oil and gas sector.

The big powers want Iran to halt its uranium enrichment programme, which they suspect is a cover for an effort to build a nuclear arsenal. Iran says it has the right to enrich uranium for civilian use and does not want atomic weaponry.

"Iran's nuclear path is irreversible," Ahmadinejad said. The United States and its allies, he said, "have unsuccessfully tried to violate our obvious right".

"Sanctions have no impact on Iran's decision-making process ... and sanctions have always failed ... Our enemies cannot harm our very strong economy by imposing sanctions on Iran."

Despite Iran's insistence, political analysts say the unexpected severity of the economic measures is an important factor in bringing Tehran back to talks which it abandoned for more than a year before the meeting in Geneva.

Ahmadinejad joined leaders from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Central Asian states in Turkey for a summit of the 10-member Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO).

Turkey has transformed itself from a financial basket case on the periphery of Europe a decade ago, into one of the world's best-performing economies which now stakes a claim to a regional leadership role.

Turkey's governing AK Party, which emerged from a series of banned Islamist movements, has reached out to the likes of Iran, Syria and the Palestinian movement Hamas, and stood up to U.S. ally Israel, enhancing Erdogan's popularity in the Middle East.

That has alarmed some in the United States who would like to see its NATO ally lining up behind its plan of isolating the Islamic Republic, but it has also given Turkey, in Iran's eyes, the credibility to act a mediator in the nuclear dispute.

Iran will draw comfort from the Turkish presence in the talks next month, even as mere hosts.

"We will do everything we can," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters. "But our role is clear. We are hosts. If the sides want it, of course we are ready to provide every kind of help."

(Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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