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Iran positive but noncommittal about talks with U.S.

By The Associated Press

This article was published February 3, 2013 at 10:16 a.m.

— Iran’s foreign minister on Sunday welcomed the United States’ willingness to hold direct talks with Tehran in the standoff over its nuclear program but didn’t commit to accepting the offer — insisting that Washington must show “fair and real” intentions to resolve the issue and complaining about “threatening rhetoric.”

Ali Akbar Salehi insisted that no Iranian “red line” is getting in the way of direct negotiations with Washington, but also pointed to deep mistrust between the two countries.

Salehi was speaking at the same international security conference where Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday said the United States was prepared talk directly to Iran. Biden insisted that Tehran must show it is serious and that Washington won’t engage in such talks merely “for the exercise.”

Washington has indicated in the past that it’s prepared to talk directly with Iran on the nuclear issue, but so far nothing has come of it. Meanwhile, talks involving all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany have made little headway, while several rounds of international sanctions have cut into Iran’s oil sales and financial transactions.

The next round of talks with the six powers will be held Feb. 25 in Kazakhstan, Salehi told the Munich Security Conference.

Diplomats from some of those world powers have expressed frustration in recent weeks about what they say are Iran’s tactics of proposing several venues but not committing to any single one for the talks.

The EU had proposed dates and venues since December, “so it is good to hear that the Foreign Minister finally confirmed now,” said Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. “We hope the negotiating team will also confirm.”

Salehi said Biden’s comments marked “a step forward,” but indicated getting the U.S. and Iran together for one-to-one talks will be no easy task.

“We have no red line for bilateral negotiations when it comes to negotiating over a particular subject,” Salehi said. “If the subject is the nuclear file, yes, we are ready for negotiations but we have to make sure ... that the other side this time comes with authentic intention, with a fair and real intention to resolve the issue.”

Salehi said it was “contradictory” if the U.S. voices willingness to hold direct talks “but on the other side you use this threatening rhetoric that everything is on the table ... these are not compatible with each other.”

“We are ready for engagement only when it is on equal footing,” he said.

Iran insists it does not want nuclear arms and argues it has a right to enrich uranium for a civilian nuclear power program, but suspicion persists that the real aim is to build an atomic bomb.

Last month Iran, in a defiant move, announced plans to vastly increase its pace of uranium enrichment. That can be used to make both reactor fuel and the fissile core of warheads.

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