Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi delivers a speech at the German Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin February 4, 2013. Iran said on Sunday it was open to a U.S. offer of direct talks on its nuclear program and that six world powers had suggested a new round of nuclear negotiations this month, but without committing itself to either proposal. (Reuters)
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Monday he saw positive signs the United States was rethinking its approach to Tehran in the protracted dispute over the Islamic republic’s nuclear drive.
“As I have said yesterday, I am optimistic,” he told a foreign policy think tank in Berlin.
“I feel this new (U.S.) administration is really this time seeking to at least divert from its previous and traditional approach vis-a-vis my country.”
Salehi had told a security conference in the southern German city of Munich Sunday that Iran was open to a U.S. offer for two-way discussions if Washington’s intentions were “authentic.”
He said Iran welcomed comments by U.S. officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, who said at the Munich conference that Washington was ready to hold talks with Tehran on its nuclear program.
And Salehi said Iran was prepared to resume talks over its disputed nuclear work with the United States and five other world powers in Kazakhstan on February 25 after an eight-month break.
“The recent approach by the U.S., we look at it positively,” he said Monday.
“We hope that this time they are really meaning what they say and that they really want to see how they can resolve this issue bilaterally. We express our readiness to resolve the issue bilaterally.”
French President Francois Hollande said at a press conference with Biden meanwhile that Paris and Washington would be increasing the pressure on Iran in the upcoming talks.
Washington severed diplomatic ties with Iran in the wake of the 1979 revolution, and relations remain hostile, with little direct contact.
“I think it’s about time that both sides really get into engagement because confrontation certainly is not the way, confrontation will only exacerbate the situation and the entire region and the international community will be suffering from the consequences,” Salehi said.
“Enough is enough, we have enough problems in the Middle East.”
Iran and six world powers — the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — held three rounds of talks last year aimed at easing the standoff over Iran’s nuclear activities, which Tehran insists are peaceful.
The six, known as the P5+1 or EU3+3, called on Iran to roll back its program but stopped short of meeting Tehran’s demands that they scale back sanctions, and the last round ended in stalemate in June in Moscow.
Since then, talks have been held up over disagreements on their location.
“We are ready… to recognize the worries of the other side and that is very important,” Salehi said.
“We see no justification in this concern but we are yet ready to recognize that, ok, they have their concern.”
Salehi said he believed new members of U.S. President Barack Obama’s cabinet during his second term, presumably including Secretary of State John Kerry and his nominee for defense secretary, Chuck Hagel, were disposed to compromise.
“Those who are being appointed — when I read their position vis-a-vis my country prior to their appointment years ago, I have noticed that they have taken a balanced view,” he said.
In broadly conciliatory remarks, Salehi added that Tehran would continue talks with the Syrian opposition following a preliminary meeting at the weekend.
“We had 45 (minutes) to an hour discussion which was very fruitful… and we committed ourselves to continue this discussion,” Salehi said after meeting Syrian opposition leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib in Munich.
The talks were the first with Khatib, who became Syrian National Coalition leader late last year.
Salehi’s speech in Berlin was briefly interrupted by a protester and a few dozen demonstrators braved a cold, driving rain to stage a rally against Iran’s human rights record.
After the speech, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged a quick resumption of the nuclear talks, calling 2013 “a decisive year” to ease tensions.
“In the nuclear dispute with Iran, a window of opportunity has opened that should be met with a real will for dialogue,” he said in a statement.