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Six-nation talks on Iran take place in Germany

world Updated: Feb 04, 2009 16:39 IST

AFP
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Senior diplomats from six world powers met on Wednesday for the first time under the new US administration to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions, two days after Tehran launched its first satellite.

Political directors from the UN Security Council permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany met in Wiesbaden near the western German city of Frankfurt.

The get-together comes two days after Iran set alarm bells ringing by launching a low Earth orbit satellite into space, technology the West fears Tehran could use in the future to carry nuclear warheads.

Iran insists its first home-built Omid (Hope) satellite, launched on Monday, has no military application.

Although the directors are in constant telephone and email contact about Iran's nuclear programme, the meeting marks the first face-to-face gathering since US President Barack Obama took office on January 20.

The talks began on Wednesday morning and were due to last until early afternoon. The New York Times reported that the United States was being represented by Under Secretary of State William Burns.

The West suspects Iran of secretly trying to build an atomic bomb but the Islamic republic says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes and that it has the right to technology already in the hands of many other nations.

So far the West has adopted a stick-and-carrot approach of applying sanctions on Iran while offering economic and energy incentives in exchange for not enriching uranium, used in either nuclear weapons or nuclear power.

Diplomatic ties between the United States and Iran have been frozen for three decades but Obama has vowed to map out a new future for US relations with Iran.

In an interview with Al-Arabiya satellite television network, Obama said last week that Washington would offer Iran an "extended hand" if Iran's leaders "unclenched their fist."

"Whether or not that hand becomes less clenched is really up to them. But as we look at the opportunities available to us, we're going to have a very broad survey of what we think we can do," Hillary Clinton said last week in her first news briefing as Obama's secretary of state.

Obama's predecessor George W Bush -- who famously declared Iran part of an "axis of evil" -- refused to talk to Tehran until it stopped sensitive nuclear fuel work.

The White House has refused to rule out any options -- including military strikes -- to stop Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, having earlier congratulated Obama on his election, came out with a fiery speech last Wednesday, demanding that he apologise for "crimes" against Iran and "stop supporting the Zionists."