BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq said on Wednesday it had offered to host talks between Iran and six world powers on Tehran's disputed nuclear programme next week, acting on an Iranian request to change the venue from Istanbul following friction with Turkey.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said the April 13-14 negotiations would take place in Istanbul, the first such meeting since January 2011, when the sides failed to agree on an agenda. Now it is unclear if they can even settle on a venue.
Iranian media earlier quoted Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying the meeting could be in Iraq or China, and Britain said the host city was still not decided.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told Reuters his country had given ambassadors from the six powers formal invitations to meet the Iranians in Baghdad, after a visiting Iranian delegation proposed this on Tuesday.
"Iraq has expressed its willingness to host these talks if the parties agree," Zebari said. "We have extended the invitation and we are waiting for responses."
There was no immediate reaction from the six powers - the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany - to the proposal to hold talks in Iraq.
"Talks are due to take place now at the end of next week. The venue for those has not yet been determined. That is in itself part of the negotiation," Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters in London.
"This (the talks) will be an important test of Iran's sincerity in returning to negotiations which we have repeatedly called on them to do."
Iraq's Shi'ite-led government is closely aligned with Iran in a region where Sunni Arab Gulf powers are competing for influence the Shi'ite Islamic Republic.
A senior Iranian figure recently spoke out against Turkey hosting the talks as once-warm Iranian-Turkish relations have cooled in the past year over Turkey's hostility to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Iran's close Arab ally.
Turkey has demanded Assad halt a year-long crackdown on opponents in Syria and step down. Turkey has also announced it would reduce the amount of oil it buys from Iran by 10 percent, ceding to U.S. pressure over Iran sanctions.
The United States and its allies suspect Tehran is covertly working on nuclear weapons and have imposed tough sanctions on Iran, including measures against its financial and energy sectors. Tehran says its nuclear activities are peaceful.
Tehran last month agreed to renewed talks with the five permanent members of the Security Council, as well as Germany, but said negotiations over the venue were continuing.
After years of war, Iraq last month hosted an Arab League summit for the first time in two decades as part of its push to return to the diplomatic stage in a region split on sectarian lines over the Syria conflict and the dispute with Iran.
(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft; Editing by Alistair Lyon)
Updated Date: Apr 05, 2012 01:30 AM