European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton wrote to Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator on Tuesday, accepting an offer to meet to discuss Tehran’s nuclear program.
“On behalf of China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, I have offered to resume talks with Iran on the nuclear issue,” Ashton said in a statement.
Ashton said the time and venue for talks should now be decided but noted she wanted talks to resume as soon as possible.
The offer of talks follows the expansion of sanctions by Europe and the United States to exert economic pressure and force Tehran to hold back on its nuclear program, which they fear aims to produce atomic weapons. Iran says it is enriching uranium for peaceful purposes only.
The last round of talks collapsed in Turkey in January 2011 over what Western diplomats said was Iran’s insistence on “preconditions”.
Western powers suspect Iran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb, a charge denied by Tehran which insists its atomic program is for purely peaceful purposes.
In a letter last month, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, proposed that negotiations with global powers should resume after more than a year’s standstill, and said Tehran would have “new initiatives” to bring to the table.
Ashton’s letter proposed an initial round of talks to focus on building confidence by developing concrete steps for the future.
“Our overall goal remains a comprehensive negotiated, long-term solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, while respecting Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy,” she said in her reply to Jalili.
“In practical terms,” she wrote, “our deputies could get together in the near future in order to prepare for the first round of our resumed talks.”
In another possible step towards greater cooperation, Iran said on Tuesday it would let U.N. nuclear investigators visit a military complex where they had been refused access, to check intelligence suggesting Tehran has pursued explosives research relevant to nuclear weapons.
Western states are likely to tread cautiously, mindful of past accusations that Iran’s willingness to talk has been a tool to buy time and not a path to agreement.
Officials say Iran faces an unprecedented strain on its economy due to the expansion of sanctions on its oil and financial sectors. In July, an EU embargo on Iranian crude is due to take full effect, drastically shrinking its export markets.