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US, EU Say Iran May Be Ready to Resume Talks

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton take part in a news conference at the State Department in Washington, February 17, 2012

The United States and the European Union say Iran may be serious about returning to talks over its nuclear program.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton say the international community welcomes Iran's response to a request to resume talks over its nuclear program.

Tehran this week replied to a letter that Ashton sent in October asking for a return to talks. Washington and its allies believe Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says the nuclear program is for peaceful civilian purposes.

After talks with Clinton on Friday, Ashton said it is good that Tehran has replied.

“There is a potential possibility that Iran may be ready to start talks," said Ashton. "We will continue to discuss and make sure that what we are looking at is substantive. I am cautious and I am optimistic at the same time for this.”

In the letter, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, said Tehran is ready to resume talks at the earliest opportunity as long as the international community respects Iran's right to peaceful nuclear energy.

Clinton said Iran's response shows it recognizes some of the international community's concerns. “Any conversation with Iran has to begin with a discussion of its nuclear program. And Iran's response to Cathy's letter does appear to acknowledge and accept that," she said.

Clinton said the international community is looking for Iran to demonstrate that it is prepared to come to talks in a “serious and constructive” way. “We must be assured that if we make a decision to go forward, we see a sustained effort by Iran to come to the table, to work until we have reached an outcome that has Iran coming back into compliance with their international obligations,” Clinton said.

Clinton says the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany have not yet formally responded to Iran's letter as they are consulting among themselves about its content. She says the unity of that group has been critical in dealing with Iran in the past, so Washington needs to give its partners time to evaluate the offer.

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