EU’s Ashton ‘cautiously optimistic’ over Iran nuclear talks

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European Union foreign policy Chief Catherine Ashton said on Wednesday Iran must respond to an offer proposed by world powers if this week’s nuclear talks were to succeed.

Ashton was speaking in the Turkish capital Ankara before talks on the nuclear dispute with Iran in Kazakhstan on Friday and Saturday with the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.

“I remain always cautiously optimistic. But I am also very clear that it is very important that we do get a response,” she told reporters when asked about the talks in Almaty.

Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful but Western powers suspect Tehran of seeking nuclear weapons capability.

The six powers held talks with Iran in Almaty in February when Western officials say they made a proposal intended to break a deadlock in the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program.

They offered to ease a ban on trade with Iran in gold and other precious metals and relax an import embargo on Iranian petrochemical products, the officials say.

The proposals appeared to soften the six powers’ previous demands.

Iran has hinted it is not satisfied with the offer, although chief negotiator Saeed Jalili said after the talks in February that the six powers had tried to “get closer to our viewpoint”.

Iran says it has a sovereign right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, which includes fuelling nuclear power plants so it can export more oil.

It denies seeking nuclear weapons.

Ashton paid a brief visit to Turkish capital Ankara where she met Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

During the talks the financial crisis in Cyprus was also on the agenda.

“It’s high time to focus on a comprehensive and final solution. Turkey is ready to contribute to each and every step taken for this purpose. However our stance is obvious against any kind of faitaccompli,” Davutoglu said.

Cyprus has been split between the Greek Cypriot south and Turkish north since 1974.