Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has told visiting EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that a nuclear deal could come in the next four months.
Mohammad Javad Zarif held talks lasting more than an hour with Baroness Catherine Ashton, who is making her first visit to Tehran amid a thaw in relations.
“We can do it in four or five months and even shorter,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said.
Catherine Ashton cautioned there was “no guarantee” her talks would lead to a comprehensive agreement.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton
World powers want Iran to scale back its nuclear work to ensure it cannot assemble a nuclear weapon.
The election of Iranian moderate Hassan Rouhani as president last year led to an improvement in ties between the Islamic Republic and the EU.
In November, Baroness Catherine Ashton helped broker a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear programme in return for limited sanctions relief.
Analysts say the war in Syria is also expected to be discussed, as Iran is a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad.
It is the first visit to Iran by an EU policy chief since 2008.
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A recording of a phone conversation between EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet on Ukraine has been leaked online.
In the recording, Urmas Paet told Baroness Catherine Ashton that there was an “increasing understanding” in Ukraine that ousted President Viktor Yanukovych’s government was not responsible for the deaths of police and protesters during clashes last month in Kiev.
Urmas Paet said some Ukrainians believed elements from within the new regime in Kiev had employed snipers.
He said Ukrainian doctor Olga Bogomolets had told him that victims from both sides were shot by snipers using the same weapons.
However, Dr. Olga Bogomolets told the UK’s Telegraph newspaper that she had never had access to victims from the government side and was unable to comment on how they had been killed.
The phone conversation between EU’s Catherine Ashton and Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet on Ukraine has been leaked online
Urmas Paet confirmed that the conversation with Baroness Ashton had taken place on February 26.
In a news conference on Wednesday, Urmas Paet called for an inquiry into the deaths in Kiev, but warned against using his comments to discredit the new government.
“I call for journalists to treat this recording very carefully. I was talking about the theories there were about what happened in Ukraine,” he said.
Viktor Yanukovych fled Ukraine shortly after the bloodshed and is now in Russia.
Moscow has since flooded the Crimea region with military personnel, claiming that Viktor Yanukovych had asked for their help.
However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier insisted Moscow had no power to remove what it calls “self-defense forces” currently guarding key sites in Crimea, explaining that they were not Russian troops.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) says it has sent 35 unarmed military monitors to Ukraine in response to a request from Kiev.
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EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has announced that Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych intends to sign a deal on closer EU ties after all.
Baroness Catherine Ashton was speaking as pro-EU protesters continued to paralyze the centre of Kiev over Viktor Yanokovych’s decision not to sign the EU association agreement.
The president’s U-turn late last month followed pressure from Russia.
Catherine Ashton said Viktor Yanukovych had assured her when they met that his aim was to sign the agreement.
The baroness did not give an indication of when she expected this to happen.
She said his concern during their talks was the “short term economic issues” that Ukraine faced.
Catherine Ashton met President Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev
Viktor Yanukovych pulled out of the deal last month, explaining that Kiev could not afford to sacrifice trade with Russia. While adding that he still aimed to sign the deal, Viktor Yanukovych said Ukraine would need at least 20 billion euros ($27 billion) a year to upgrade its economy.
Catherine Ashton said on Thursday: “It is my view that those challenges, which are real, can be addressed by the support that not only comes from the European Union institutions, but actually by showing that he has a serious economic plan in signing the association agreement also will help to bring in the kind of investment that he needs.”
The Ukrainian government’s handling of the pro-EU protests in Independence Square in Kiev has met with a stern response from both the European Union and the US.
Police moved into the main protest camp in the early hours of Wednesday, prompting US Secretary of State John Kerry to express “disgust” at the government’s treatment of a peaceful protest.
At least nine people were detained and there were some reports of police using violence. The state department said later it was considering a range of responses including sanctions.
After her meeting with Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday, Catherine Ashton said she had insisted on the release of anyone arrested because of the protests and that the Ukrainian president had assured her that would happen.
Moscow is concerned the EU free trade deal with Kiev would flood the Russian market and wants Ukraine to sign up to a customs union that includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.
In his annual address to the Russian parliament on Thursday, President Vladimir Putin said he hoped a solution to Ukraine’s crisis could be found and insisted the customs union would not be forced on Kiev.
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