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Iran

EU's top diplomat, Iranian foreign minister seek to restart nuclear talks

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wants to resume talks on Tehran's nuclear program and has distanced himself from former President Ahmedinejad's comments on the Holocaust. A policy shift?

The European Union's foreign policy coordinator, Catherine Ashton said on Friday that she planned to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (pictured above) on the sidelines of a United Nations meeting in New York later this month.

"We are ready to come very quickly to talks," Ashton told reporters in Vilnius, where she was to attend in informal meeting of EU foreign ministers. "We really want to move now quickly to resolve this," she added, referring to the dispute between Tehran and the international community over its controversial nuclear program.

Ashton was speaking following a telephone conversation with Zarif, who had been named as Iran's new top nuclear negotiator on Thursday.

Ashton leads negotiations on behalf of the group of five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, which has been at loggerheads with Iran over its nuclear program for several years. The United States and its allies fear that Iran could be using its nuclear power program as a cover to produce atomic weapons. The West is concerned in particular about Tehran enriching uranium, which at higher degrees of enrichment, can be used to build nuclear arms.

Tehran, though, has repeatedly stressed that its nuclear program is meant for peaceful purposes only.

Foreign Minister Zarif reiterated that stance following his conversation with Ashton.

Allaying international concerns is in our interest because atomic weapons do not form part of the Islamic republic's policies," Zarif told reporters in Tehran.

"Consequently, our interest is to remove any ambiguity regarding our country's nuclear programme," he added.

No to Holocaust denial

Meanwhile, an Iranian website reported on Friday that Zarif had used the micro-blogging website Twitter to distance the current government from former President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's denials of the Holocaust.

"Iran never denied it. The man who perceived to be denying it is now gone. Happy New Year," one of the statements attributed to Zarif on Twitter said, referring to the Jewish new year.

Court ruling

In a separate development, a European court on Friday handed down a ruling seen as a setback to the EU's efforts to pressure Iran to come clean on its nuclear program.

The Luxembourg-based General Court ruled that asset freezes imposed on seven Iranian companies and one individual should be lifted. The court said the EU had failed to "properly establish" that the companies and individual affected had supported Tehran's nuclear program.

The decision by the General Court, the EU's second highest, is open to appeal.

pfd/ rg (Reuters, dpa, AFP)