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U.S. lets Iran start WTO talks

Associated Press
Published May 27, 2005

VIENNA - The World Trade Organization eased open its door to Iran on Thursday - an immediate reward for Tehran's decision to stick with talks Europe hopes will reduce Tehran's potential for nuclear mischief.

Iran was jubilant over the decision by the 148-member WTO in Geneva, which governs international commerce, to open membership negotiations with Tehran.

"Today this house with this decision has done service to itself by correcting a wrong," said Mohammad Reza Alborzi, Iran's chief representative to international organizations in Geneva.

But Iran still insists on the right to technology that can make nuclear arms. Its decision Wednesday to meet with European Union negotiators for a new round of talks in the summer thus did little more than postpone a diplomatic struggle over Iran's vow to resume programs capable of producing nuclear weapons.

Iran first applied to join the WTO in 1996, but the United States blocked its application 22 times. The United States said in March it would drop its veto, after consultations with France, Germany and Britain, the European negotiating countries.

WTO membership was one of the rewards offered to Iran if it agrees to curb its nuclear program, including refraining from enriching uranium - something that was not agreed on Wednesday.

Less tangible than WTO membership - but potentially even more important to Iran - is the potential goodwill created by its decision to stick with the talks just weeks ahead of a key meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency that will pass judgment on Tehran's nuclear record.

A breakdown of the EU-Iran talks would have fed U.S. hopes of having the June 13 board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency refer Tehran to the U.N. Security Council for nuclear activities that Washington insists show an attempt to build weapons.

[Last modified May 27, 2005, 00:41:05]

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