BRUSSELS: Stalled nuclear talks on Iran could resume this autumn after both the European Union and Iran said they were ready to go back to the negotiation table, officials said Wednesday.
The EU`s chief diplomat Catherine Ashton said Wednesday she was ready to pick a time and place to revive negotiations, her office said. Iran`s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Wednesday that talks could begin in September.
The breakthrough came after Ashton wrote to Iran`s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili.
"I am glad to hear that you would be prepared to restart dialogue," Ashton wrote.
Ashton, who represents six world powers in the negotiations, said "issues relating to the Iranian nuclear programme must be the focus of our talks, though other subjects ... could also be raised."
She suggested that the two sides "should discuss the time and venue for our meeting."
Ashton`s spokesman told AFP the European Union`s high representative hopes the talks can restart "as soon as possible, potentially in the autumn."
In Lisbon, Mottaki confirmed the report from the Iranian side.
"We foresee the month of September, after the month of Ramadan," Mottaki said, referring to the holy Islamic fasting month.
"We have always welcomed and backed negotiations."
The last high-level talks between Iran and the six -- the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany -- were held in Geneva in October 2009 when the two sides agreed a nuclear fuel swap that has since stalled.
Western powers have demanded that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment programme, fearing that Tehran would use the material to build a nuclear bomb. Tehran insists that its atomic programme is a peaceful drive to produce energy.
Ashton had written to Jalili in mid-June to request a resumption of negotiations with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany after the UN imposed new sanctions on Iran.
The Iranian official wrote back on July 6 that Tehran was ready to resume talks from September 1 should a number of conditions be met.
Jalili said the six must answer whether the talks were aimed at "engagement and cooperation or continued confrontation and hostility towards Iranians."
Ashton had yet to respond to Jalili`s missive until she sent her new letter, which was dated July 8 but was sent to Tehran late Tuesday.
"Our aim has always been achieving a comprehensive and long-term settlement which would restore international confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran`s nuclear programme, while respecting Iran`s legitimate rights to the peaceful use of nuclear energy," Ashton wrote.
"This reflects a genuine wish on the part of all of the six countries I represent for a more constructive and cooperative relationship with Iran," she added.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced on June 28 that he was freezing nuclear talks for two months in retaliation for a fourth set of sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council three weeks earlier.
The United States and the European Union, seeking to pile pressure on Tehran, later decided to impose their own punitive measures against Iran, targetting the country`s key oil and gas sectors.
US President Barack Obama signed the tough US sanctions into law on July 1. EU foreign ministers will finalise the bloc`s sanctions at July 26 meeting.
In a sign of the growing impatience among world powers, Russia, traditionally a diplomatic and economic ally of the Islamic republic, has hardened its position regarding Iran.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Monday that Iran was close to having the potential to build a nuclear weapon, the clearest indication yet of Russian alarm over Tehran`s atomic drive.
BDST: 1008 HRS, 15 July 2010