World powers seek 'early negotiated solution' with Iran
The United States and five other world powers said Wednesday they are seeking an "early negotiated solution" to the standoff with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her counterparts from Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany announced the new diplomatic overture to Iran on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.
Iran has signaled a new willingness to engage the international community over its nuclear program, but has so far failed to meet the terms for talks and its defiance triggered a fourth round of UN Security Council sanctions in June.
"We agreed to sanctions in June... Now is the time for Iran to engage in real negotiation, in actual constructive dialogue, about its whole nuclear program," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said after the meeting here.
"They should not underestimate our desire for dialogue. It is a twin-track approach," he said.
He added he would pass on the message from the six powers to Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki when he sees him later Wednesday.
"We reaffirmed our determination and commitment to seek an early negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue and focused our discussion on further practical steps to achieve it at an early date," the six said in a statement.
US officials said there were signs from the Iranians that they may be ready for a meeting in the fall.
A senior US official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told reporters afterward that the six powers were ready for "such a process, we're committed to a diplomatic resolution and it remains to be seen whether the Iranians are."
The statement read out by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the six powers are "ready to engage with Iran" in the context of implementing a nuclear fuel swap deal that was agreed in Geneva in October last year.
It added that they looked forward to an "early meeting" with Iran and were prepared to discuss a "revised arrangement," apparently because Iran has enriched much more uranium in the past year.
Under the deal, Iran would ship most of its low-grade uranium to France and Russia so that it could be enriched further and returned to Iran to fuel a medical research reactor in Tehran.
The deal had been designed to buy time and build confidence while the world community waits for Iran to meet its demand to halt uranium enrichment, a program western powers fear masks a drive for a nuclear bomb.
But it stalled as Iran sought to modify its terms in a new agreement brokered by Brazil and Turkey.
In June, a month after the deal was brokered by Brazil and Turkey, the UN Security Council then approved a fourth round of sanctions against the Islamic republic, which in turn said it would suspend talks until September.
The chief diplomats also "committed themselves" to the full implementation of the new sanctions, the senior US official said.
The United States, which spearheaded the drive for the sanctions, has long argued that Iran will only return to the negotiating table once it feels them bite.
It says the current sanctions are beginning to hurt Iran, while Tehran insists they have no effect.
"We confirmed the need for Iran to comply with the UN Security Council, and IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) Board of Governors requirements," the statement said.
These bodies insist Iran fully open up its nuclear facilities to inspection and halt uranium enrichment, a program which the Western powers fear it is using to build a nuclear weapon.
Iran denies the charge, saying the program is for peaceful purposes.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in New York to attend the UN General Assembly meeting, told media that his country was ready to resume talks with world powers over its nuclear program.
The UN sanctions had also damaged the chances for an improvement in US-Iranian relations, he added. He blamed international politics for the growing tensions over the nuclear program.
When asked what would happen if Iran failed to respond to the offer, the senior US official told reporters that engaging Iran directly "is our focus right now."
© 2010 AFP