Reporting from Beirut — For the first time in more than a year, Iran has agreed to talks with world powers over its nuclear program.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters in Brussels on Friday that she had received an affirmative response from Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili to a standing invitation to talks and that he was ready to restart negotiations sometime after Nov. 10 "in a place and on a date convenient to both sides," according to news agencies.
Ashton described the letter as "a significant move" and said diplomats were now attempting to set a place and time for negotiations on ways to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at producing weapons and Tehran says is solely for civilian purposes.
Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency cited Jalili's office as saying it welcomed the willingness of world powers "to return to the talks with Iran."
U.S., Russian, Chinese, British, French and German diplomats met with Jalili, a close advisor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, last October. The world powers offered Iran a deal to exchange the bulk of its enriched uranium for fuel plates to power an ailing Tehran medical reactor.
After seeming to agree, the Iranians then rejected the offer, continued to expand their 3.5%-enriched uranium supply and began refining uranium to purity levels of 20%, suitable for the medical reactor but worrisome to nuclear proliferation experts.
This year, world powers rejected a deal crafted by Iran, Brazil and Turkey to remove some of Iran's nuclear fuel supply in exchange for the reactor plates because Iran in the meantime had significantly expanded its supply of enriched uranium.
In the ensuing weeks, the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, Canada and other developed nations imposed fresh economic sanctions on Iran in an effort to ratchet up the pressure.
Most close observers of the years-long diplomatic struggle over Iran's nuclear program doubt that any meetings next month will resolve the disputes between Tehran and the international community.
Jalili's response Friday included a reference to a July 6 demand to Ashton that Iran would engage in talks on the condition that world powers clarify whether the discussions are aimed at confrontation or engagement, whether threats and pressure would be avoided and whether a "clear view" on Israel's undeclared atomic weapons arsenal would be voiced.