Six world powers have offered to resume long-stalled talks with Iran to address Western suspicions of a military dimension to the Iranian nuclear program.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton says she made the offer to resume talks in a letter sent to Iranian nuclear envoy Saeed Jalili on Tuesday. Ashton has been leading negotiations with Iran as a representative of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members - the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia - as well as Germany.
In her letter, Ashton says the goal of the six powers remains a "negotiated, long-term solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program."
Israel and Western powers accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian energy program, a charge Tehran denies. Israel sees a nuclear-armed as Iran threat to its existence and refuses to rule out military action to prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon capability.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held separate meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and congressional leaders in Washington on Tuesday to discuss how to respond to Iran's nuclear activities. There was no immediate word on the outcome of the Clinton-Netanyahu meeting.
After meeting Republican and Democratic leaders of Congress, Netanyahu praised them for what he called their "clarity, courage and wisdom." Congress has long showed strong bipartisan support for Israel's security concerns.
In a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee late Monday, Netanyahu said Israel cannot afford to wait much longer for diplomacy and sanctions to pressure Iran. Iranian state news agency IRNA says Deputy Foreign Minister Hoseyn Abdollahian rejected the Israeli leader's remarks as "bellows of fear."
In a White House meeting earlier Monday, President Barack Obama urged Netanyahu to give diplomacy and sanctions more time to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions. Obama also reiterated his position that all options are on the table to stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Obama administration and Israeli officials have expressed differing views about what might trigger military action against Iran's nuclear sites. U.S. officials have said Washington may act if Iran makes a decision to assemble a nuclear bomb, while Israeli officials have said military action may be needed sooner, to prevent Iran from putting the pieces of a bomb beyond the reach of an attack.
The EU's Ashton says the six powers and Iran must agree on a time and venue for the nuclear talks, which have been stalled since January 2011. Iranian envoy Jalili had sent a letter to Ashton last month, pledging Iran's readiness to restart talks on the nuclear issue.
VOA's U.N. correspondent says a diplomat told her last week that a new round of talks is unlikely to be scheduled until April at the earliest.
Iran's government said Tuesday it is willing to provide U.N. nuclear experts with conditional access to a military complex they suspect of being used for research towards developing nuclear weapons. A U.N. watchdog delegation had requested access to the Parchin site during visits to Iran in January and February, but Iran refused.
Iran's delegation to the Vienna-based IAEA says granting access to Parchin is a "time-consuming process and cannot be permitted repeatedly" due to the site's military status. It says Iran will grant such access when it resolves unspecified issues with the U.N. agency.
Some information for this report was provided by AP.