Iran said it would review an offer of talks on its nuclear program with the US and five other world powers, even as it prepared to declare new progress in its disputed atomic activity yesterday.
The US, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain said on Wednesday they would ask EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana to invite Tehran to a meeting to find “a diplomatic solution to this critical issue.”
“We will review it and then decide about it,” said Ali Akbar Javanfekr, a senior adviser to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Underlining Tehran’s determination to press ahead with its nuclear program, Ahmadinejad was expected to announce later yesterday in the central city of Isfahan that Iran has mastered the final stage of atomic fuel production.
The West suspects Iran is seeking to develop nuclear bombs. The Islamic Republic, which marks its National Nuclear Day, says it only aims to produce electricity.
The new US administration of President Barack Obama is trying to reach out to Iran, offering a “new beginning” of diplomatic engagement after three decades of mistrust.
Wednesday’s invitation to direct talks marked a major policy change in Washington, which under former president George W. Bush spearheaded a drive to isolate Iran over its nuclear work.
“We strongly urge Iran to take advantage of this opportunity to engage seriously with all of us in a spirit of mutual respect,” the six powers said in a statement after a meeting of senior diplomats in London on Wednesday.
Iran has so far reacted cautiously to US overtures since Obama took office in January, saying it wants to see a real shift in Washington’s policies rather than a change in words.
Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday Iran sought “interaction and negotiation based on honor, justice and respect.”
Professor Mohammad Marandi at Tehran University said Iran probably would accept the invitation for talks “if there are no particular strings attached,” but that Washington must recognize that Iran sees its nuclear program as peaceful and legitimate.
“I think the mere inclusion of American diplomats on the negotiating table is not enough,” said Marandi, who heads North American studies at the university.
While reaching out to Iran, the Obama administration has also warned of tougher sanctions if it continues to defy UN demands to halt sensitive nuclear work.
Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, has repeatedly rejected Western demands to stop uranium enrichment, which can have both military and civilian purposes.
Analysts say Iran may be setting tough conditions for dialogue in a bid to buy time. Adding to uncertainty, it holds a presidential vote in June in which Ahmadinejad faces a challenge from a moderate politician seeking detente with the West.
One Iranian analyst said he expected Ahmadinejad to say in Isfahan, where Iran has a uranium conversion facility, that it has perfected the last of several phases of fuel output, with the production of uranium pellets and fuel rods for reactors.