Hopes rise for Iran nuclear talks
The EU and the US are moving closer to resuming international talks with Iran on its disputed nuclear programme, buoyed by recent changes in Tehran's leadership, officials said.
"We are ready to come very quickly to talks," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who has over the past years led the negotiations with Iran over allegations it is seeking to build nuclear weapons. "We really want to move now quickly to resolve this," she added.
Recognising the election of centrist Hasan Rouhani as president in June, president Barack Obama said developments offer "the opportunity to demonstrate in acts and not just words that ... they do not pursue nuclear weapons".
French president Francois Hollande, who was in St Petersburg with Mr Obama for the G20 summit, said "we want to believe in the statements of the new president" who has sounded more conciliatory than his predecessor.
Mr Rouhani has confirmed that the foreign ministry led by Javad Zarif - a Western-educated diplomat - will lead nuclear talks with world powers, marking a shift away from the often more hawkish security officials who had previously set the negotiation strategy.
At a meeting of the EU's 28 foreign ministers in Vilnius, Lithuania, Baroness Ashton said she called Mr Zarif and agreed to meet him later this month on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. "I stand ready with my colleagues to get the talks moving," she said, adding she hopes "that when we meet in New York we will have the opportunity to set dates (for the formal talks) there".
"We've got some good proposals on the table. We are always willing to listen to good proposals from Iran," she said.
While it is assumed that Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will have the last word on the nuclear issue, Mr Rouhani was elected on the promise of getting rid of the international sanctions that are crippling Iran's economy.
Analysts view the appointment of the foreign affairs ministry to lead the nuclear negotiations - instead of the Supreme National Security Council - as a sign that the new administration might be more willing to compromise with the West.
At the same time, a top EU court said it would throw out penalties imposed on several Iranian businesses for their alleged ties to Iran's nuclear programme. The EU General Court ruled there was insufficient evidence to justify the sanctions imposed by the bloc on eight Iranian banks and companies.