Iran will give "positive consideration" to a renewed prospect of one-on-one talks with the United States on its nuclear program, its foreign minister said Sunday.
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said a new round of talks between Iran and the five permanent U.N. Security Council members, plus Germany, would be held February 25 in Kazakhstan. Salehi spoke on the last day of the 49th Munich Security Conference, a day after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said the Obama administration remains willing to hold direct talks with the Islamic Republic.
"That offer stands, but it must be real and tangible, and there has to be an agenda that they're prepared to speak to," Biden said. "We are not just prepared to do it for the exercise."
The United States and Iran haven't had diplomatic relations since 1980. But U.S. and Iranian diplomats had occasional talks in Baghdad during the eight-year American war in Iraq, and U.S. President Barack Obama held out the prospect of talks with Iran when he came into office in 2009.
Salehi noted Sunday that both Biden and the new secretary of state, John Kerry, have mentioned the possibility of talks with Iran in recent days, and "We take these statements with positive consideration."
Salehi said Iran has "no red line" for bilateral talks and is ready for negotiations over its nuclear program. But he added, "We have to make sure this time -- and this I think is very fair of us -- to make sure the other side this time comes with an authentic intention, with a fair and real intention, to resolve the issue." "
Iran has defied international demands that it halt its production of enriched uranium, which it insists is to be used for civilian nuclear power and research reactors. But the United States and Israel have accused Iran of seeking the capability to produce nuclear weapons, and the International Atomic Energy Agency says it can no longer verify that Iran's nuclear program is strictly peaceful.
Iran's refusal to shut down its uranium enrichment plants has led to tougher and tougher economic sanctions that have crippled its economy. An oil embargo and banking restrictions have crashed the Iranian currency, the rial. New U.S. sanctions imposed in January targeted a handful of companies and individuals that Washington says are providing materials and technology to Tehran's nuclear program.
Biden said Saturday that U.S. policy "is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," and said the clerical leadership in Tehran "need not sentence their people to economic deprivation and international isolation."
"There is still time, there is still space for diplomacy -- backed by pressure -- to succeed," he said. "The ball is in the government of Iran's court, and it's well past time for Tehran to adopt a serious, good-faith approach to negotiations with the P-5 plus 1."
During his confirmation hearing last week, Kerry told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that if Iran can prove its nuclear work is peaceful, "That's what we're seeking."
And Obama's nominee for secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel, has in the past called for direct talks with Iran. It was a point of contention during his confirmation hearing, with some Republicans accusing him of being too soft on Iran.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, has urged the United States -- his country's leading ally -- to set a "red line" for nuclear development and make clear that if Iran crosses that line, it would risk war. Netanyahu, who won a new mandate in January, said Sunday that the job of preventing a nuclear-armed Iran "is becoming more complex, since Iran is equipping itself with cutting-edge centrifuges that shorten the time of enrichment. We must not accept this process."