Still, officials noted Iran had rebuffed some past attempts at outreach by Washington and other governments concerned that elements of Tehran's nuclear program could support weapons development, the Los Angeles Times reported. Iran has maintained its atomic aims are exclusively civilian in nature.
"The real proof will be in renewed engagement," a high-level Obama administration official said.
The six negotiating states -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- would work to ease into comprehensive nuclear talks with Iran by first pursuing "confidence-building" initiatives, in part by attempting to revive a shelved International Atomic Energy Agency proposal that would involve an exchange of Iranian uranium for higher-enriched material, the official said.
Tehran ultimately rejected the plan worked out last year with France, Russia and the United States, referred to in the talks as the "Vienna group." The proposal sought to provide fuel for a medical isotope production reactor in the Iranian capital while deferring the nation's enrichment activities long enough to more fully address U.S. and European concerns about its potential nuclear bomb-making capability.
Adopting an updated version of the plan would be "a way to build confidence and pave the way for tackling the hard issues at the core of Iran's nuclear program," the administration source said (Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, Sept. 22).
"Let me be clear once more: the United States and the international community seek a resolution to our differences with Iran, and the door remains open to diplomacy should Iran choose to walk through it," President Barack Obama said today, according to Agence France-Presse (Agence France-Presse I/Spacewar.com, Sept. 23).
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki indicated his government's "readiness for negotiations with the Vienna group and the P-5+1," state media reported.
"Talks can succeed provided they are fair and Iran's right to peaceful use of nuclear energy is recognized," he said in a meeting yesterday with his Chinese counterpart, according to AFP (Agence France-Presse II/Spacewar.com, Sept. 23).
U.N. nuclear watchdog Director General Yukiya Amano and Iranian officials in a meeting yesterday discussed options for fueling the Tehran reactor, Iran's Press TV reported. The Iranian team included Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the nation's Atomic Energy Organization, and IAEA envoy Ali Akbar Salehi.
Amano voiced hope following the encounter that Iran and Vienna group members could hold talks in the near future (Press TV, Sept. 22).
Russia today indicated the terms of a potential exchange would be altered by Iran's continued enrichment of uranium, ITAR-Tass reported.
"Over the time passed since the beginning of the development of the fuel replacement scheme Iran continued enrichment," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said. "As many as 2,800 kilograms of low-enriched uranium at the Natanz nuclear center has already been accumulated."
Iran in February began refining low-enriched uranium from its stockpile to 20 percent. Although the move was ostensibly intended to produce isotopes for the medical research reactor, the United States and other Western powers have feared the process could help Iran produce nuclear-weapon material, which has an enrichment level around 90 percent.
"Uranium enrichment up to 20 percent continues, and there is a certain amount of this nuclear substance already," Ryabkov said. "All this cannot but affect the atmosphere of the discussion of the scheme of fuel supply for the [Tehran Research Reactor]" (ITAR-Tass I, Sept. 23).
Ryabkov said new talks should take place as soon as possible between Iran and the Vienna group nations, RIA Novosti reported.
"We are convinced that such a meeting should be held without delay, and a (negotiation) process on a wider range of issues should also be launched simultaneously," he said (RIA Novosti, Sept. 23).
U.S. and Iranian officials held an undisclosed meeting at U.N. headquarters aimed at establishing informal contacts between their governments, Haaretz reported yesterday (Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz, Sept. 22).
The Obama administration dismissed the claim, AFP reported.
"I'm aware of no contacts between U.S. and Iranian officials in New York," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said yesterday. "Our focus right now is on the P-5+1 process" (Agence France-Presse III/Spacewar.com, Sept. 22).