Iran Talks Possible, New Letter From Tehran Says
By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA, Feb 16 (Reuters) - Iran, facing severe sanctions to bar it from exporting oil, has told world powers it wants to resume long-stalled talks quickly with "new initiatives" in hand, and France said Tehran may now be open to addressing concerns about its nuclear quest.
Tehran made the offer in a letter to the EU's foreign policy chief obtained by Reuters on Thursday, a day after it trumpeted several advances in nuclear know-how and sent oil prices upward with suggestions of economic retaliation in what may have been moves to boost its leverage before any fresh negotiations.
Iran's president vowed no retreat from its atomic path on Wednesday only for state television to announce the proposal to re-launch talks after a year's hiatus - mixed signals making it difficult to divine what Tehran's ultimate intentions were.
Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili's letter said he would have "new initiatives" but did not spell them out. He made one separate reference to "Iran's nuclear issue", without spelling out whether Tehran was prepared to negotiate on it.
But French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that while the letter was "ambiguous" it seemed to signal "the start of opening up from Iran" with respect to discussing its nuclear activity.
A Feb. 20-21 visit to Iran by top U.N. nuclear watchdog officials would help determine whether Tehran was serious about tackling international concerns, Juppe told reporters during a visit to Vienna.
The U.N. team, led by the International Atomic Energy Agency's chief inspector, will again try to extract Iranian explanations, after three years of stonewalling, for an IAEA investigation driven by intelligence reports that suggest Tehran has researched sophisticated ways to build atomic bombs.
Jalili's letter was a reply to one from Ashton in October in which she said the big powers could meet with Iran within weeks if it was ready to "engage seriously in meaningful discussions" tackling concerns about its nuclear programme.
Jalili said he welcomed an earlier statement by Ashton on respecting Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
"(A) constructive and positive attitude towards the Islamic Republic of Iran's new initiatives in this round of talks could open positive perspective for our negotiation," Jalili said in the brief English-language letter.
"Therefore...I propose to resume our talks in order to take fundamental steps for sustainable cooperation in the earliest possibility in a mutually agreed venue and time."
Jalili urged a focus "on a spectrum of various issues" to lay groundwork for "constructive, forward-looking cooperation".