Ashton, asked about Iran sanctions, says she wants best atmosphere for talks

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A top EU official, asked if new sanctions should be imposed on Iran as talks about its nuclear program unfold, said she wanted to go to the October 15-16 talks with Iran in Geneva with "the best possible atmosphere."

"I am not in the business of telling Congress what to do," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in response to a question at a Washington think tank about whether Congress, or others, should impose additional sanctions on Iran.

"I would like to get to Geneva with the best possible atmosphere to really have these negotiations," she said, referring to October 15-16 talks between Iran and six major powers: Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

"And that means, in all sorts of ways, we need to show willingness and good faith to sit down and talk and expect the same in return," she added in an appearance at the Woodrow Wilson Center think tank.

Political directors from the six major powers - known as the P5+1 because they include the five U.N. Security Council permanent members and Germany - are to meet Iranian officials in Geneva to discuss Iran's nuclear program.

The United States and its allies suspect that Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies this, saying its nuclear program is solely for peaceful, civilian purposes.

"It may be, at the end of those two days, that we don't make progress. But it may be ... that we do," Ashton said, saying her general approach to a negotiation is to keep pressure on.

"Pressure is there for a reason: it's to bring people to the talks in order to try and make progress," she said.

"I want to go to Geneva with that best possible atmosphere," she added. "In any thinking about that, those who are making the law here or those in control of the negotiations from the U.S. end ... (U.S. Secretary of State John) Kerry and his team will have to think about how to make sure that it's the best possible atmosphere."

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Eric Beech and Philip Barbara)

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