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Iran is open to talks with US, official says

The comments by Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, were not seen as definitive since he cannot set policy.

Michael Dalder/REUTERS

The comments by Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, were not seen as definitive since he cannot set policy.

MUNICH — Iran’s foreign minister said Sunday that his country was open to a renewed offer of direct talks with the United States on its nuclear program and looked favorably on a proposal for a new round of multilateral nuclear negotiations on Feb. 25 in Kazakhstan.

But the Iranian official, Ali Akbar Salehi, does not have the power in the Iranian system to decide these matters on his own, so his comments were viewed by European and US officials as more atmospheric, designed for the trans-Atlantic audience at the Munich Security Conference, than definitive.

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Salehi called a restated offer here for direct talks with Washington, expressed Saturday by Vice President Joe Biden, ‘‘a step forward’’ and said, ‘‘We take these statements with positive consideration.’’

But Salehi quickly added that ‘‘each time we have come and negotiated, it was the other side, unfortunately, who did not heed’’ its commitments. And he complained to the Iranian news media of ‘‘contradictory signals’’ from President Obama and ‘‘the threatening rhetoric that everything is on the table,’’ including military means to prevent Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon.

‘‘This does not go along with this gesture’’ of direct talks, he said, ‘‘so we will have to wait a little bit longer and see if they are really faithful this time.’’ Having negotiated in the past with Washington over Iraq, he said, Iran had no ‘‘red lines.’’

Similarly, Salehi said he had ‘‘good news,’’ hearing that the European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, had proposed another round of negotiations with Iran by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany during the week of Feb. 25 in Kazakhstan.

Iran has regularly delayed such meetings, which the six powers had hoped to restart in December, and then in January, with arguments over location and timing.

Iran is represented in nuclear talks by Saeed Jalili, who is designated as the ‘‘personal representative’’ of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It is Khamenei who will decide matters on the nuclear issue, and certainly will decide whether Iran opens direct talks with the United States, which he regards as intent on leadership change in Iran, the European and US officials said.

Jalili is in Damascus, meeting with officials from the Syrian government, which Iran is supporting with arms, fuel, and cash.

Biden said bluntly in response to a question on Saturday that Washington was prepared for bilateral talks with Iran ‘‘when the Iranian leadership, supreme leader, is serious.’’ Biden added that the offer of talks ‘‘stands, but it must be real and tangible, and there has to be an agenda that they are prepared to speak to. We are not prepared to do it just for the exercise.’’

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