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Mon 14 Apr 2008 10:59 AM

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US, Iran in secret discussions

Tehran and Washington conducting back-channel discussions on nuclear programme - paper.

The US and Iran have been conducting secret back-channel discussions on Tehran's nuclear programme and frozen relations between the two countries, The UK's Independent reported Monday.

The newspaper quotes former US under secretary of state Thomas Pickering as saying that a group of former US diplomats and foreign policy experts had been meeting with Iranian academics and policy advisers "in a lot of different places, although not in the US or Iran" for the past five years.

"Some of the Iranians were connected to official institutions inside Iran," Pickering told the paper.

Last week, the US warned Iran it risked further isolation and new international sanctions after refusing to comply with UN Security Council resolutions over its disputed nuclear programme.

The West fears Iran could use enriched uranium to make a nuclear weapon, and Tehran's refusal to suspend the process has been punished with three sets of UN Security Council sanctions resolutions and US pressure on its banking system.

The US government is hoping the sanctions will put increasing popular pressure on the Iranian leadership, with which it does not have diplomatic relations.

The Independent reported that the contact group was put together by the UN Association of the USA and facilitated by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a think-tank chaired by former chief UN weapons inspector Rolf Ekeus.

"We discussed what's going on domestically in both countries and wide-ranging issues," The Independent quoted Pickering as saying.

He added that although none of the group members was from the US or Iranian governments, "each side kept their officials informed," according to the paper.

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