Iran on Friday handed world powers its “constructive and creative” response to their bid to end the five-year standoff over its contested nuclear programme, top officials said.
“The Islamic republic has prepared and presented a response to the letter of the six countries with a constructive and creative view and a focus on common ground,” state television quoted top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili as saying.
A spokeswoman for the EU’s Javier Solana confirmed the response had been delivered Friday evening in a letter to the European Union’s foreign policy chief and to the foreign ministers of the six countries that submitted the offer. She gave no details of the letter.
The spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach, earlier said Solana had held “positive” talks by telephone with Jalili, who has fronted talks with Tehran on behalf of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.
Last month Solana gave Iran a letter from the six foreign ministers and a package offering Tehran technology and negotiations if it suspends uranium enrichment, which the West fears could be used to make atomic weapons.
The semi-official Mehr news agency on Friday quoted an informed source as saying that the response to Solana was handed over by Iran’s ambassador to Brussels.
Jalili did not elaborate on the contents of the Iranian response.
The source quoted by Mehr said the response was specifically to the world powers’ letter, implying there could be another response to the package attached to the letter.
Jalili also said both sides had agreed that talks would be held again by the end of the current Iranian month of Tir, which ends in two weeks.
Gallach said: “They had a positive, constructive conversation. They agreed to remain in contact.” She said Jalili said the response would contain “more concrete elements” but stressed that “some time will be needed to analyse it.”
Iran has also put forward its own more all-embracing offer aimed at solving world problems, including the nuclear issue, and has said there is common ground between the two packages.
There has been considerable speculation in recent days that Tehran was softening its tone on the nuclear standoff.
The foreign policy adviser to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Ali Akbar Velayati, said it would be in Iran’s interest to accept the negotiations.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has also spoken of a “new process.”
Velayati however on Thursday said his comments had been misinterpreted, insisting: “I talked about accepting negotiations and not accepting the proposed package.”
Washington has never ruled out taking military action against Tehran, and in recent weeks speculation has mounted that Iran’s regional arch-enemy Israel was preparing pre-emptive strikes against its atomic sites.
In a sign of continued tensions, the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, General Mohammad Ali Jafari, warned: “Any action against Iran will be interpreted as the start of a war.”
US media reported that more than 100 Israeli warplanes staged a training exercise with Greece last month to prepare for a possible long-distance strike and as a warning to Tehran.
In an unusual move, the letter from the six world powers was personally signed by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice along with her counterparts.
“Formal negotiations can start as soon as Iran’s enrichment-related and reprocessing activities are suspended,” said the text of the letter, addressed to both Mottaki and Jalili.
“We want to be clear that we recognise Iran’s rights under the international treaties… But with these rights come responsibilities, in particular to restore the confidence of the international community in Iran’s nuclear programme.”
World powers fear that Iran could use enrichment to make a nuclear weapon. Tehran insists its atomic drive is peaceful and aimed only at producing nuclear power for a growing population.
Tehran has made no sign it is ready to give ground on the key question of enrichment, which Iran must suspend in order to enter the talks offered by the world powers.
Diplomatic sources said Solana had not ruled out a deal whereby world powers would refrain from further sanctions on Iran provided it did not start operating any more centrifuges to enrich uranium.