Ashton to discuss Iran's talks offer with Clinton


WORLD POWERS are examining a new Iranian offer to restart talks on its nuclear programme, a move that comes in a week in which Tehran was blamed for bomb plots in India, Thailand and Georgia.

The offer from top Iranian official Saeed Jalili was sent last Tuesday to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who chairs a team of negotiators from the US, Russia, China, Germany, France and Britain.

Baroness Ashton will discuss the development at scheduled talks in Washington today with US secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

In question is whether the approach marks a sincere attempt by Iran to break the deadlock over the programme, said a European diplomat.

The last face-to-face talks in Istanbul in January 2011 and in Geneva the previous month proved fruitless after Iran refused to make any concessions. There was no desire to see that repeated, the diplomat added.

French foreign minister Alain Juppé said the letter was “ambiguous” but constituted “the start of opening up from Iran, which says it is ready to talk about its nuclear programme”.

Iran is coming under increasing pressure from the western powers as the EU and US intensify economic sanctions against the country by targeting its oil industry.

The country has responded by threatening to pre-empt the EU embargo, due to come into force in July, by cutting oil supplies to six European states before they source alternative supplies.

The western powers believe Iran is developing a nuclear bomb, which it denies.

They fear this could ignite a wider conflict in the Middle East.

The escalating tension comes as Israel blames Iran for bombings and attempted bombings this week in New Delhi, Tbilisi and Bangkok. Tehran denies involvement.

Last month Iran blamed the US and Israel for the killing of one of its nuclear scientists, the latest in a line of attacks widely attributed to Israel.

In his letter, seen by The Irish Times, Mr Jalili referred to unspecified “new initiatives” by Iran, which could open a positive perspective.

“We voice our readiness for dialogue on a spectrum of various issues which can provide ground for constructive and forward-looking co-operation,” he wrote.

One day later, however, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad trumpeted progress in the nuclear programme.

This was in keeping with previous manoeuvres by Mr Ahmadinejad. On the eve of the Geneva talks, Iran unveiled what it described as a big step forward in its nuclear project.