US seeking direct nuke talks with Iran: report

Updated: 2013-07-14 03:26


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WASHINGTON - The Obama administration is seeking to hold direct talks with Iran over Tehran's controversial nuclear program after Iranian President-elect Hassan Rouhani sent out some positive signals, the Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

Senior US officials were quoted as saying that Washington is preparing to communicate to Rouhani its desire to hold direct negotiations in the coming weeks after the moderate cleric expressed his interest in engaging with the international community on the nuclear issue.

Rouhani, who won the Iranian election in June, is to succeed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad early next month.

Senior US officials will meet with representatives of the four other permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, in Brussels on Tuesday to map out a coordinated approach to Rouhani and Tehran, the officials disclosed.

Communications from Washington to Tehran have at times been sent through the office of Catherine Ashton, who is the European Union's foreign policy chief and head of the diplomatic bloc negotiating with Iran in the so-called P5+1 talks.

The US government is "open to direct talks" and wants to reinforce this in any way, said a senior US official who will take part in the Brussels meeting, noting Iran has sent out signals that the new government "might be going in a different direction."

Through intermediaries, Rouhani has told the Obama administration about his wish to bring more transparency to Iran's nuclear program.

The P5+1, referring to Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany, hopes to schedule a new round of negotiations with Iran by September, the report said.

The US government is still waiting for Tehran to formally respond to the diplomatic package that the P5+1 presented to Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili during the last round of talks in February in Kazakhstan.

It included an easing of some economic sanctions against Iran in return for stopping producing near weapons-grade nuclear fuel and agreeing to deposit much of it outside the country.

The P5+1 also is seeking to close Iran's uranium-enrichment facility in the holy city of Qom, which is fortified in an underground bunker and has begun employing faster centrifuge machines, the report added.  

Iran has maintained that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful research and energy purposes, while the US-led Western countries suspect that Tehran is trying to acquire a nuclear weapon.