Big powers, Iran hold nuke talks as time runs out

World powers began two days of talks with Iran on Monday to try to end a decade-long stand-off over Tehran's nuclear program and avert the threat of a new war in the Middle East.

In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tehran would be prepared to stop enriching uranium to a higher level - a process that could be used to make nuclear arms - if the six powers agreed to meet its needs for the fuel. But it is not clear how much influence Ahmadinejad has over the negotiations and whether his remarks reflect Tehran's position in the talks.

Experts and diplomats said a breakthrough was unlikely at the meeting in Moscow, where the world powers are wary of making concessions that would enable Tehran draw out the talks and give it more time to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

Iran strenuously denies it has any wish to obtain such weaponry and says it only wants nuclear technology to generate electricity.

Israel has threatened to bomb Iran if no solution to the dispute is found.

"The atmosphere was fine, business-like and good. We hope this translates into a serious political commitment by the Iranians to address our proposals,” a European Union spokesman said after the talks started in the Russian capital.

But a Western official made clear the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany were ready to deepen Iran's diplomatic and economic isolation if no deal is reached.

"If Iran remains unwilling to take the opportunities these talks present, it will face continuing and intensified pressure and isolation," a Western official said.

The Moscow talks follow two rounds of negotiations since diplomacy resumed in April following a 15-month hiatus.

The United States wants to halt Iran's enrichment of uranium to 20 per cent purity, a level which some experts consider to be a dangerous step towards achieving the ability to create the explosive material required to make a nuclear bomb.

Ahmadinejad's comments on enrichment appeared intended to ease pressure from the world powers and encourage them to make concessions at the talks.

"From the beginning the Islamic Republic has stated that if European countries provided 20 per cent enriched fuel for Iran, it would not enrich to this level," Ahmadinejad stated on his presidential website.

But the Iranian president, who stands down at elections next year, has fallen out of favor with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the man who has the ultimate decision-making power over the strategic nuclear program.

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