Turkey envoy says Iran, West ready to resume nuclear talks, but EU still awaits Iran RSVP

Turkey's foreign minister said on a trip to Iran Thursday that he had delivered a western offer to resume talks on Iran's nuclear program, and his Iranian counterpart had accepted. But a European official told Yahoo News Thursday that Iran had still yet to formally respond in writing to a proposal for a new meeting.

"We are waiting for a good result coming out of the willingness of the two parties to go back to the negotiating table," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a joint news conference with Iran's foreign minister in Tehran Thursday, which was broadcast on Iran's Press TV with English translation, Reuters reported.

"As far as negotiations over Iran's peaceful nuclear energy program, we hope that we will gain good results and the unfavorable conditions that have emerged, we hope that they will go away," Davutoglu added.

Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi "confirmed Iran was ready to return to talks with the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany (P5+1) at a time and place agreed by both sides," Reuters wrote, adding that Salehi proposed Turkey as a preferred host for the talks.

However, a spokesman for the top international Iran nuclear negotiator, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, told Yahoo News Thursday that Ashton has still not received a written Iranian response to her October proposal for a new round of nuclear talks.

"We still await [Iran's] response to [High Representative] Ashton's letter of October," a spokesman for Ashton said Thursday. "We are open to talks on confidence-building measures without preconditions . . . . But it's up to Iran to respond in writing."

Observers have noted that Iranian officials had given several indications in recent days they were interested in returning to negotiations. But they said that it's not clear whether Iran or other international powers had laid the groundwork for successful negotiations.

"This meeting has long been in the making and [there are many reasons to] think it is going to happen," Iran analyst Trita Parsi told Yahoo News Thursday in a telephone interview. "The only thing is: Will it be a real negotiation or just another exchange of ultimatums?"

On the one hand, Iranian leaders "are under some pressure," Parsi noted. On the other, "they think they have some interesting cards" to play in a resumed set of talks.

One key card, Parsi noted, is the plan recently announced by Iranian officials to start enrichment work at the buried Fordo uranium enrichment facility near Qom within the next six months. Several American and Israeli military analysts believe that if Iran's enrichment capabilities are moved to that underground, fortified facility near Qom, it would prove a much more difficult military target, particularly for Israel, compared to the current Iranian uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.

The United States wants Iran to stop enrichment to 20 percent, to turn over its stockpile of low enriched uranium, and to halt plans to make Fordo operational. "But what can they and the Europeans" offer in return? asked Parsi, who is the author of a new book on U.S. diplomacy with Iran. A "mutual freeze on any mutual escalation" is one possible formulation, he said. But western powers are "asking Iran to give up things they already have." It's hard to imagine, he added, that the United States would be prepared to offer Iran a corresponding suspension of sanctions already in place--particularly while a presidential election is under way in the United States.

The United States and European Union have both indicated in the past week they are preparing to put in place new sanctions that would restrict Iran's revenues from oil exports.

Separately, the Kremlin said Thursday that Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had initiated a phone conversation with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to discuss a Russian proposal for resolving international concerns about Iran's nuclear program.

"According to a statement on the Kremlin's website, Medvedev expressed satisfaction with Ahmadinejad's 'positive evaluation' of Russia's 'step-by-step' proposal to dispel concerns about Iran's nuclear program," Reuters' Robin Pomeroy wrote.

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