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US drops veto, allowing Iran to start talks on joining WTO

GENEVA -- The World Trade Organization agreed yesterday to start membership negotiations with Iran, after the United States dropped a longstanding veto.

The US decision appeared to be the first tangible reward for Iran after it agreed Wednesday to maintain its suspension of all nuclear activities in a deal with the European Union.

Mohammad Reza Alborzi, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, welcomed the breakthrough at WTO's General Council, whose 148 member states take decisions by consensus.

''I take note that a decision that has long been overdue has been now established," Alborzi said in remarks to the closed-door meeting.

Iran applied to join the WTO in September 1996 and its candidacy was first considered in May 2001. But Washington had blocked agreement ever since at 22 General Council meetings.

The green light to talks from the WTO, which sets the rules for world trade, does not mean that Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil exporter, will be joining soon.

Accession talks can take years: Russia is still negotiating its entry after a decade of discussions.

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