EU Foreign Policy chief Cathy Ashton said Friday she is “cautious and optimistic” about the prospect for Iran to return to nuclear talks with world powers, following a letter she received from Tehran.
Ashton was in Washington to discuss the letter with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who called the letter “an important step” that the pair welcomed following a year-long hiatus in negotiations and tension with Iran.
“I think it’s good to see that the letter has arrived,” Ashton told reporters at a press conference with Clinton.
“There is a potential possibility that Iran may be ready to start talks. We’ll continue to discuss and make sure that what we're looking at is substantive,” Ashton said.
“But I’m cautious and optimistic at the same time for this,” she added.
In a February 14 letter, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili told world powers Tehran is ready to resume stalled nuclear talks at the “earliest” opportunity as long as they respect its right to peaceful atomic energy.
He addressed the letter to Ashton who represents the United States, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia in the talks. The six are called P5-plus-1, or the permanent five U.N. Security Council members, plus Germany.
“We voice our readiness for dialogue on a spectrum of various issues which can provide ground for constructive and forward looking cooperation,” Jalili wrote in the letter, a copy of which was seen by AFP.
Ashton had written in her letter to Jalili in October that a solution was possible only if the talks focused on addressing Western concerns over the nature of Iran's nuclear program.
Clinton, while stressing the six powers needed to carefully study the letter, noted some positive signs.
“As outlined in Cathy’s October letter to Iran, any conversation with Iran has to begin with a discussion of its nuclear program and Iran’s response to Cathy’s letter does appear to acknowledge and accept that,” Clinton said.
Jalili wrote that Iran welcomed a statement in the letter “respecting Islamic Republic of Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy consistent with the NPT (nuclear non-proliferation treaty).”
“No doubt that by committing to this approach, our talks for cooperation based on step by step principles and reciprocity on Iran's nuclear issue could be commenced,” Jalili wrote.
Clinton also said “we must be assured, that if we make a decision to go forward, we see a sustained effort by Iran to come to the table to work until we have reached an outcome that has Iran coming back into compliance with their international obligations.”
But she added: “I think it's fair to say ̶ of course I’ll let Cathy speak for herself ̶ that we think that this is an important step and we welcome the letter.”
The United States and other Western powers suspect that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb, but Tehran denies the charge, insisting it is merely trying to meet its energy needs.
The last round of talks collapsed in Turkey in January 2011.