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First round of Iran nuclear talks ends in positive fashion, say parties

Talks over Iran's nuclear program have made a "good start," according to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. A second round of talks is scheduled to begin on March 17.

Iran and top diplomats from Britain, China, the United States, Germany, France and Russia met in Vienna this week, with the first stage of talks ending on Thursday. A six-month freeze of certain nuclear-related activities in Iran was agreed in an interim deal in November and is in place until July 20, though that can be extended.

The six world powers at the negotiation table want Iran to curb its nuclear program to reduce concerns it could use their stocks for the production of weaponry. Limiting Iran's ability to produce enriched uranium or plutonium, which can be used in missile warheads, is key. Should an agreement be reached, billions of dollars worth of US and EU sanctions will be lifted.

Iran is resisting cuts and have insisted their program is not aimed at building weapons. Both sides acknowledge there is much to do before a final agreement is reached.

"We have had three very productive days during which we have identified all of the issues we need to address in reaching a comprehensive and final agreement," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters.

"There is a lot to do. It won't be easy but we have made a good start."

Iran comments on social media

Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif took to his Facebook page to describe the talks as "very serious" and "even a little bit more positive than anyone predicted." But he said there was a "difficult way ahead of us." He also told journalists "that no-one had, and will have, the opportunity to impose anything on Iran during the talks."

Wendy Sherman, the head of the US delegation at the talks will travel to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates this week to discuss the progress of negotiations with government representatives in each country.

Israel has been publicly critical of the interim deal agreed in November. Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israeli radio prior before the end of the first round of talks that "we are giving a chance for [a] diplomatic solution on condition that it provides a comprehensive and satisfactory solution that doesn't leave Iran with a nuclear breakout capability."

ph/jr (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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