The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany said Tuesday in a rare joint statement that they were ready for direct talks with Iran to resolve a long-running nuclear standoff.
Speaking at a U.N. nuclear watchdog meeting, the six voiced serious concern at Iran's atomic advances and increasing restrictions on U.N. inspectors trying to keep track of them but did not mention toughening sanctions as a way to rein in Iran.
"We remain firmly committed to a comprehensive diplomatic solution, including through direct dialogue," the so-called P5+1 nations said in a joint statement read to a closed-door meeting of the IAEA board of governors.
The countries—Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States—called on "Iran to take this opportunity for engagement with us and thereby maximize opportunities for a negotiated way forward."
The International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-member board of governors, meeting all this week, began its debate on Iran's disputed nuclear program on Tuesday afternoon. It was the first time in years that the P5+1 have issued a joint statement at a meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
A day earlier, IAEA Chief Mohamed ElBaradei criticized Tehran for not cooperating in the watchdog's probe, but expressed hope that a possible change in U.S. policy towards Iran could help break the deadlock.
Even after a six-year probe, the IAEA has failed to definitively say that Iran's controversial nuclear program is entirely peaceful, as Tehran claims.
ElBaradei complained that Iran was stonewalling key questions on the possible military dimension of past nuclear work and defying U.N. orders to stop uranium enrichment, a process that can be used not only to make nuclear fuel, but also the fissile material for a bomb.
The six powers urged Iran "to meet without delay the requirements of the IAEA board of governors and to implement the resolutions of the UN Security Council."
They noted ElBaradei's "serious concern ... about the continued lack of progress.”
"In this regard, we call on Iran to cooperate fully with IAEA by providing the agency such access and information that it requests to resolve these issues," the statement said.
Iran demands change of U.S. policy
Iran has reacted cautiously, saying it is open to fair talks while demanding fundamental changes in U.S. policy, by which it means U.S.-driven sanctions, accusations Iran actively seeks nuclear weapons and supports terrorism.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told an Arab foreign minister on Monday she was doubtful Iran would respond to the U.S. shift and had "no illusion" about success.
Obama has made no concrete offer yet of talks, pending the outcome of a sweeping foreign policy review due in a few weeks.
And his administration has re-floated the option of seeking harsher international sanctions on Tehran if it does not open up to IAEA investigations and shelve sensitive nuclear activity of possible use in producing atom bombs.
U.S. turnaround heartens IAEA
Still, a fresh U.S. commitment under Obama to multilateral cooperation to solve frozen conflicts has cheered many at the IAEA, raising hopes of coaxing Iranian cooperation and easing fear of war shattering non-proliferation efforts.
The six powers omitted mention of sanctions, common in statements by Western members at earlier IAEA meetings, to preserve unity—Russia and China oppose further punitive steps—and underscore a direct diplomatic approach critically undermined by Washington's pointed absence under Bush.
But they stressed Iran had to reciprocate by suspending enrichment and giving inspectors documentation and on-the-ground access to resolve allegations of secret military dimensions to Iran's nuclear fuel program.