European Union studies Iran offer for nuclear talks

The European Union is studying a call by Iran to resume negotiations over the country's nuclear program but still insists it must suspend uranium processing, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Monday.

"We have looked at the letter very carefully. The Iranians are under an obligation to respond positively to the resolution of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency...and we look to them to do that," Straw told reporters before a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

Separately, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solon added: "We will respond. We don't want to go any further at this point."

The September 24 IAEA resolution required that Iran be reported to the U.N. Security Council for non-compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and urged it to re-establish "full and sustained suspension" of all activities linked to enrichment.

EU foreign ministers were due to review the bloc's policy of engagement with Iran following Tehran's decision to restart part of its nuclear program and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's statement last month that Israel should "be wiped of the map".

Iran moved to defuse tensions over its nuclear program on Sunday, saying it had let U.N. inspectors visit a military complex and calling for a revival of EU talks on the issue.

However, the EU has demanded that Tehran resume a freeze on uranium ore conversion into a gas that can be used to make highly-enriched nuclear fuel before negotiations can resume.

It was the first direct approach by Iran to ask for talks since Ahmadinejad, who had adopted a tougher foreign policy stance than his reformist predecessor, took office in August.

The letter from chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani came days after Tehran recalled dozens of its ambassadors, including in those countries involved in the nuclear talks and among them envoys seen as holding relatively moderate foreign policy views.

Talks between the two sides broke down in August when Tehran rejected an EU offer of economic and political incentives in return for scrapping sensitive nuclear fuel-making activities.

Iran broke U.N. seals at its uranium conversion plant in Isfahan and began processing uranium concentrate into a gas that could be used to make atomic bombs or nuclear reactor fuel.

Those actions led the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency to declare Iran in non-compliance with its international obligations and require that it be reported to the U.N. Security Council, where it could face sanctions.

Iran's has not yet been referred to the Council, but will be discussed again at an IAEA board meeting this month, reports Reuters. I.L.

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