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Sun 20 Jul 2008 01:26 PM

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Nuclear talks a 'step forward' - Ahmadinejad

Iranian president upbeat despite threat of further sanctions over disputed nuclear drive.

Iran's president described talks with world powers on the country's disputed nuclear programme as a step forward, the official IRNA news agency said on Sunday.

At Saturday's meeting in Geneva, the six major powers gave Iran two weeks to answer calls to rein in its nuclear activities or face tougher sanctions after talks ended in stalemate despite unprecedented US participation.

Prospects of ending the row looked dim as Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili insisted Tehran would not even discuss a demand to freeze sensitive atomic work the West fears is aimed at making bombs at the next meeting.

But Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave an upbeat assessment. "Any negotiation that takes place is a step forward," he told reporters, according to IRNA.

"Yesterday's negotiation is regarded as one of these forward-moving negotiations," Ahmadinejad said.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said after some six hours of talks in Geneva he hoped for a clear answer from Tehran in around two weeks to a world powers offer of trade and technical incentives to halt uranium enrichment.

Enriched uranium can provide fuel for power plants but also material for bombs if refined much more.

Envoys from the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain - the so-called sextet of world powers - also attended the meeting in the Swiss city.

Diplomats said the presence of senior US envoy William Burns underlined the unity of major powers in the dispute, and stressed that patience was running out with Iran.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki described the US decision to attend the meeting in Geneva as a "positive procedural step" which he hoped would lead to mutually beneficial results, IRNA said.

The United Nations has imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran in a stand-off that goes back to the revelation in 2002 by an exiled opposition group of the existence of a uranium enrichment facility and heavy water plant in the country.

Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil producer, rejects suspicions that it wants an atomic bomb and says its nuclear programme is intended to generate electricity. (Reuters)