Page last updated at 17:33 GMT, Thursday, 17 July 2008 18:33 UK

Iran satisfied at US involvement

Manouchehr Mottaki
Iran says its nuclear programme is only aimed at generating electricity

Iran has welcomed as positive America's decision to take part in international talks on its nuclear programme.

Speaking in Damascus, Iran's foreign minister said Tehran was looking forward to constructive engagement.

A meeting in Switzerland will involve, for the first time, the US Under Secretary of State, William Burns.

The talks will aim to find out how Iran will respond to the West's offer of economic incentives if Tehran suspends its uranium enrichment programme.

"The American participation is positive," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, after meeting Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus.

He added that Iran was looking forward "to constructive engagement" at Saturday's talks in Geneva.

"This is not only a good initiative, but our US friends are joining the dialogue. It's a very interesting, a new attitude, an additional asset, no doubt," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters outside a European security meeting in Vienna.

Iran denies any nuclear weapons plans, but is defying UN Security Council demands to halt uranium enrichment.

Significant steps

In the past, the Bush administration has insisted that no talks will be held with Iran until it suspends its uranium enrichment programme.

The Bush administration says Mr Burns's presence is designed to demonstrate the West's unity and to reiterate that the terms of negotiations remain the same - namely that Iran must halt its uranium enrichment programme for further talks to take place.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, centre, visits the Natanz uranium enrichment facility on 8 April 2008

There are growing signs that Iran and America are taking significant steps towards a negotiated solution to the nuclear crisis, says the BBC's Tehran correspondent, Jon Leyne.

Iran will probably soon accept a Western proposal to freeze its nuclear programme at its current level, in return for a freeze on new sanctions, our correspondent says.

The US is among six world powers which have offered Iran negotiations on a package of incentives, including direct contact and dialogue, if Tehran suspends uranium enrichment, a process the West fears could be used to make nuclear weapons.

But it has not previously sent US diplomats to sit down face-to-face with Iranian negotiators to discuss the issue.

The package brought to Tehran by the EU foreign envoy Javier Solana last month includes a series of proposals designed to help Iran develop a civilian nuclear programme.

The meeting comes at a time of increased tension between Iran and the US, particularly following Iranian missile tests last week that prompted the US to warn that it would defend its interests and its allies in the region.

Formal contacts between the US and Iran are very rare, though the two countries held three rounds of talks in 2007 over Iraq.

The two nations have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the taking of hostages at the US embassy in Tehran.

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