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 that it looked favorably on a proposal for a new round of multilateral nuclear negotiations 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 U.S. officials as more atmospheric, intended for the trans-Atlantic audience at the Munich Security Conference, than definitive.
Mr. Salehi called a restated offer for direct talks with Washington, expressed Saturday in Munich by Vice President Joe Biden, "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 Barack 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, Mr. Salehi 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," responding to a proposal by the European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, for another round of negotiations with Iran by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany. She suggested they take place 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 U.S., which he regards as intent on overturning the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the U.S. 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 Saturday that Washington was prepared for bilateral talks with Iran "when the Iranian leadership, supreme leader, is serious."
Iran has played hard to get on the nuclear issue, say Western diplomats involved with the talks, and since 2009, Mr. Jalili has regularly refused offers to meet separately with the U.S. negotiator in the multilateral talks, who is now Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary for political affairs in the State Department.