Iran says in touch with powers on new talks, EU denies it
Iran said on Wednesday it was in touch with big powers to reopen talks soon but the European Union denied this, and Britain said Tehran would have to show it was serious if it wanted to avoid more EU sanctions over suspicions it is seeking nuclear weapons.
A year after the last talks fell apart, confrontation is brewing as the EU prepares to intensify sanctions against Iran with an embargo on its economically vital oil exports.
EU diplomats said on Wednesday that member governments had also agreed in principle to freeze the assets of Iran’s central bank alongside the planned oil embargo, but had yet to agree how to protect non-oil trade from sanctions.
Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, used for a third of the world’s seaborne oil trade, if it cannot sell its own crude, fanning fears of a descent into war in the Gulf that could inflame the Middle East.
Iranian politicians said U.S. President Barack Obama had expressed readiness to negotiate in a letter to Tehran, a step that might relieve tensions behind recent oil price spikes.
“Negotiations are going on about venue and date. We would like to have these negotiations,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi told reporters during a visit to Turkey.
“Most probably, I am not sure yet, the venue will be Istanbul. The day is not yet settled, but it will be soon.”
A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, representing the six powers, denied there were any fresh discussions with the Islamic Republic to organize a meeting.
“There are no negotiations under way on new talks,” he said in Brussels. “We are still waiting for Iran to respond to the substantive proposals the High Representative (Ashton) made in her letter from October.” Iran has yet to respond formally.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Iran had to be ready for serious negotiations. “It is significant that when we are discussing additional sanctions in the European Union an offer of negotiations emerges from Iran,” he said.
“We will not be deterred from imposing additional sanctions simply by the suggestion there may be negotiations. We want to see actual negotiations,” he told a news conference in Brazil.
“In the absence of such meaningful negotiations, of course, the pressure for greater peaceful but legitimate pressure will continue,” he said, referring to a meeting on Monday of EU ministers that will discuss an oil embargo on Iran.