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US, Allies, Consider Iranian Offer for Nuclear Talks


The reactor building of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant (File Photo)

The reactor building of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant (File Photo)

The State Department says the United States and other major powers are considering an Iranian offer to resume talks on its nuclear program. The negotiating process has been on hold since what U.S. officials say was a “disappointing” round of talks in Istanbul in January.

The State Department is confirming that the Iranian offer came in a letter Monday to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

But officials here are non-committal about whether the proposal will be accepted, and say the United States is consulting with others in the negotiations about the Iranian proposal.

In a long-running effort, the so-called P5 +1 grouping of world powers - Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany along with the United States - have offered Iran incentives to curb a uranium-enrichment program believed to be weapons-related. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful use.

At a news briefing, State Department Acting Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner declined to discuss specifics of the Iranian note, other than to say that P5 +1diplomats are studying its contents and considering next steps. “We obviously stand by the unified P5 +1 position that High Representative Ashton expressed in her letter after what we would consider the disappointing meetings in Istanbul - that we believe Iran should be prepared to negotiate seriously on the nuclear issue," he said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday in Istanbul his government has been ready for talks and that the nuclear issue could be resolved in a one-hour meeting. He reaffirmed Iran’s stand that it is legally entitled to enrichment technology for civilian purposes.

U.S. officials have said Iran can have a civil nuclear program, but only after satisfying the world community it is not seeking weapons.

In another development, the State Department said it has been told by Swiss diplomats who represent U.S. interests in Iran that Tehran officials have set May 11 as the new trial date for two American hikers held in Iran for nearly two years.

Iran has charged the two men, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, with espionage. But U.S. officials have denied any spying role and say they apparently strayed into Iran while hiking in northern Iraq in July of 2009.

U.S. spokesman Toner said it is time for Iran to free the Americans without conditions. “We urge Iran to resolve this case as soon as possible. Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer have been imprisoned for almost two years and it is time to reunite them with their families," he said.

A third hiker, Sarah Shourd, who is the fiancee of Shane Bauer, was released on $500,000 bail by Iran for health reasons last September and returned to the United States. She has said she will not return to Iran for the trial.

Amnesty International, in a statement Tuesday, called on Iran to end the “flawed” trial process and release the two Americans. The watchdog group said the Iranian justice system has “systematically failed” to observe international fair-trial standards in the case.

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