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Middle East

Iran ready for fresh talks on nuclear fuel

Iran said unexpectedly yesterday that it was prepared to return to talks on a nuclear fuel swap, shortly after the European Union agreed tougher sanctions including action to block oil and gas investment.

EU foreign ministers approved a range of extra restrictions on Iran that went well beyond UN sanctions agreed last month, including measures to block dealing with Iranian banks and insurance companies and steps to prevent investment in Tehran's lucrative oil and gas sector, including refining.

Shortly afterwards, Iran said it was ready to negotiate on a nuclear fuel swap "without conditions".

Talking of a letter that Iran handed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran's envoy to the UN agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said: "The clear message of this letter was Iran's complete readiness to hold negotiations over the fuel for the Tehran reactor without any conditions."

The announcement appeared to be a move by Iran to show willingness to negotiate as a net of UN, EU and US sanctions tightens around it, but it was not clear that the quick offer of fuel swap talks would be enough to placate world powers.

The EU said yesterday that the aim of its latest sanctions was to get Iran to return to negotiations over its uranium enrichment programme, holding out the possibility that talks could be held soon. Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.