REPORTING FROM LONDON -- The U.S., China, Russia and key European nations have offered to restart talks with Iran over its controversial nuclear program, the European Union announced Tuesday.
The EU's foreign minister, Catherine Ashton, said Washington, London, Paris, Berlin, Beijing and Moscow were now willing to reopen negotiations as the result of a letter from a senior Iranian official last month expressing Tehran's readiness to come back to the table.
"I welcome your suggestion to resume dialog and your readiness to address the international community's concerns about your nuclear program," Ashton wrote in reply to Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. "Our overall goal remains a comprehensive negotiated, long-term solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program, while respecting Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy."
A date and venue for the talks should be decided "as soon as possible," Ashton wrote, adding that progress was possible as long as Iran was sincere in its intention to reengage "seriously and without pre-conditions."
Although Tehran insists that it is interested in nuclear energy only for civilian purposes, Western and other international officials are convinced that the Islamic Republic is trying to enrich uranium in order to develop nuclear weapons.
The two sides have been at a diplomatic impasse for months, since previous talks in Istanbul, Turkey, broke down in January of last year.
Ashton's announcement came a day after President Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House and stressed the need to use diplomacy first to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions. Israel has argued that the window for meaningful diplomacy has practically closed and that military action, such as an air strike, is increasingly the only realistic solution.
The West has already imposed various sanctions on Tehran, including an embargo on imports of Iranian oil. Some analysts say the measures have begun to hurt Iran's economy, which could help explain Tehran's willingness to return to the bargaining table.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed his country's support for talks.
"We all agree that the international community should demonstrate its commitment to a diplomatic solution by acknowledging Iran's agreement to meet, by testing its desire to talk and by offering it the opportunity to respond to our legitimate concerns about its nuclear intentions," Hague said. "It is time for Iran to choose a different path and to show the world that it wants a peaceful, negotiated solution to the nuclear issue. It is for Iran to seize this opportunity and we urge it to do so."
-- Henry Chu