Official Says Iran Is Open to New Round of Nuclear Talks

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

MUNICH -- Iran's foreign minister said Sunday that his country was open to a renewed offer of direct talks with the United States on its nuclear program and looked favorably on a proposal for a new round of multilateral nuclear negotiations on Feb. 25 in Kazakhstan.

But the Iranian official, Ali Akbar Salehi, does not have the power in the Iranian system to decide these matters on his own, so his comments were viewed by European and American officials as more atmospheric, designed for the trans-Atlantic audience at the Munich Security Conference, than definitive.

Mr. Salehi called a restated offer here for direct talks with Washington, expressed Saturday by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., "a step forward" and said: "We take these statements with positive consideration." But Mr. Salehi quickly added that "each time we have come and negotiated, it was the other side, unfortunately, who did not heed" its commitments. And he complained to the Iranian news media of "contradictory signals" from President Obama and "the threatening rhetoric that everything is on the table," including military means to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon.

"This does not go along with this gesture" of direct talks, he said, "so we will have to wait a little bit longer and see if they are really faithful this time." Having negotiated in the past with Washington over Iraq, he said, Iran had no "red lines."

Similarly, Mr. Salehi said he had "good news," hearing that the European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, had proposed another round of negotiations with Iran by the members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany during the week of Feb. 25 in Kazakhstan.

Iran has regularly delayed such meetings, which the six powers had hoped to restart in December, and then in January, with arguments over location and timing.

Iran is represented in nuclear talks by Saeed Jalili, who is designated as the "personal representative" of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is Ayatollah Khamenei who will decide matters on the nuclear issue, and certainly will decide whether Iran opens direct talks with the United States, which he regards as intent on leadership change in Iran, the officials said. Mr. Jalili is in Damascus meeting with officials from the Syrian government, which Iran is supporting with arms, fuel and cash.

Mr. Biden said bluntly in response to a question on Saturday that Washington was prepared for bilateral talks with Iran "when the Iranian leadership, supreme leader, is serious." Mr. Biden added that the offer of talks "stands, but it must be real and tangible, and there has to be an agenda that they are prepared to speak to. We are not prepared to do it just for the exercise."

Ms. Ashton's spokesman, Michael Mann, noted that she has been proposing various dates and locations to Tehran since December, "so it is good to hear that the foreign minister finally confirmed now." But he added: "We hope the negotiating team will also confirm."

Iran has played hard to get on the nuclear issue, say Western diplomats involved with the talks, and Mr. Jalili has regularly refused offers to meet separately with the American negotiator in the multilateral talks, who is now Wendy R. Sherman, the under secretary for political affairs in the State Department.

In the last round of talks, in Moscow in June, Iran insisted that the world powers lift all sanctions against Tehran as a precondition for substantive talks on reducing or eliminating Iran's growing stockpile of enriched uranium. The six powers have argued that Iran must first comply with Security Council resolutions, demanding that it halt enrichment and satisfy the International Atomic Energy Agency that it does not have a nuclear weapons program. Iran has also refused the agency access to various sites in Iran.

Mr. Salehi also met with the leader of the Syrian opposition, Sheikh Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, who repeated his offer here of talks with representatives of the government of President Bashar al-Assad under certain conditions. Iran and Russia are Mr. Assad's two most important allies and suppliers, and Mr. Salehi and the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, called Sheikh Khatib's suggestion "a good step forward." Mr. Salehi said that Iran would talk to anyone and that "we are ready to be part of the solution" in Syria.

And Mr. Lavrov told the Russian news agency Itar-Tass on Sunday that Sheikh Khatib's proposal was "a very important step, especially since the coalition was created on the basis of categorical rejection of any talks with the regime."

But Sheikh Khatib's offer has produced fierce criticism from his own coalition, which has demanded that Mr. Assad step down before any talks.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here