Iran hopeful Geneva talks can lead to "nuclear roadmap"

Reuters

* First talks since election of moderate Iranian president

* Powers looking for substance in Rouhani's emollient stance

* Iran foreign minister sees tough "time-consuming" process

* But sees scope for "roadmap" towards defusing stand-off

* Talks start Tuesday, US sanctions expert Sherman on hand

DUBAI, Oct 14 (Reuters) - Foreign Minister and chiefnegotiator Mohammad Javad Zarif voiced hope Iran and worldpowers can agree at talks this week on a roadmap towardsdefusing the stand-off over Tehran's nuclear activity, butwarned the process would be complex.

The negotiations about Iran's nuclear programme, to start inGeneva on Tuesday, will be the first since the June election ofPresident Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who wants to thawIran's icy relations with the West to secure the removal ofpunitive sanctions that have hobbled its oil-based economy.

Western nations believe Iran's uranium enrichment programmeis covertly meant to achieve a nuclear arms capability. Tehrandenies this, saying it wants only to master nuclear technologyto generate electricity and carry out medical research.

"Tomorrow is the start of a difficult and relativelytime-consuming way forward. I am hopeful that by Wednesday wecan reach agreement on a road map to find a path towardsresolution," Zarif said in a message posted on his Facebookaccount late on Sunday.

"But even with the goodwill of the other side, to reachagreement on details and start implementation will likelyrequire another meeting at ministerial level."

Rouhani's election in June to succeed conservative hardlinerMahmoud Ahmadinejad has raised hopes of a negotiated solution toa decade-old dispute over the programme that could otherwisekindle a new war in the tinderbox Middle East.

"We will see if there is a way to transform this newattitude into gestures, but up to now, beyond the new attitude,there has been a total absence of anything that takes us forwardon the fundamentals," a Western diplomat said.

"We're expecting that things are more open, but at the sametime more complicated as we'll have to study what they areoffering," said the diplomat, who declined to be named.

The diplomat added that if the Islamic Republic failed toput any serious new proposal on the table "after all this talk,then they have a serious problem".

Zarif's deputy on Sunday rebuffed the West's demand thatIran send sensitive nuclear material abroad but signalledflexibility on other aspects of its atomic activities, includingthe degree of uranium enrichment, that worry global powers.

IRAN WANTS BETTER OFFER ON SANCTIONS RELIEF

In sporadic talks since early 2012, the world powers havedemanded Iran take initial confidence-building steps includingsuspending 20 percent enrichment, relinquishing some of itsexisting refined uranium stockpile and closing the undergroundFordow plant where most higher-grade enrichment is carried out.

In return, they have offered to rescind sanctions on Iraniantrade in gold, precious metals and petrochemicals. Tehran hasdismissed that offer, calling for the removal of oil and bankingrestrictions most damaging to its economy.

However, in a hint that Washington may be devoting greaterthought to how it might relax sanctions, its Geneva delegationwill include one of the U.S. government's leading sanctionsexperts, U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman.

Tehran says it needs uranium refined to 20 percent fissilepurity to produce isotopes for medical care. But the powers arewary that 20 percent is only a short technical step away frombomb-grade uranium and such a stockpile could give Iran a quickroute to weaponisation without stricter limits on its activity.

Iran also wants the six powers - the United States, Russia,China, Britain, France and Germany - to recognise what itregards as its sovereign "right" to enrich uranium.

"We continue to believe that while there is a significantchance of a deal by the end of the second quarter of 2014, anagreement on balance remains improbable," Middle East analystCliff Kupchan of risk consultancy Eurasia group said.

"Iran will likely offer a new proposal in which it sets outa roadmap, possibly including concessions on medium-enricheduranium in return for sanctions relief," he wrote in acommentary. "The U.S. will agree to study the proposal butprobably insist on more severe near-term constraints on Iran'snuclear programme."

Israel, which has threatened pre-emptive military actionagainst its arch-enemy Iran if it deems diplomacy a dead end,demands the total removal of Tehran's enriched uranium reservesalong with a dismantling of its enrichment plants.

Western officials have acknowledged this maximal demand -incorporated in U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutionssince 2006 - may no longer be realistic given the meteoricgrowth of Iran's enrichment infrastructure, and the way it hasmade nuclear energy and know-how synonymous with national pride.

But they say Iran's enrichment capacity must be kept incheck to make it harder for Tehran to weaponise enrichment,should it decide to do so, without being detected in time.

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