After weeks of rapidly escalating tensions, particularly between Israel and Iran, signs emerged this week both here and in Tehran that serious negotiations over Tehran's controversial nuclear program may soon get underway.
The most concrete step was a long-awaited positive RSVP from Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalali, to an invitation extended last October by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to meet with the P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany) for a new round of talks.
"We voice our readiness for dialogue on a spectrum of various issues, which can provide grounds for constructive and forward-looking co- operation," Jalali wrote in his letter.
In response, both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ashton herself emerged from a meeting here Friday expressing cautious optimism about prospects for a resumption of negotiations, which have been effectively suspended for more than a year.
"…(W)e think this is an important step and we welcome the letter," Clinton told reporters, adding that Jalili's letter "appeared to acknowledge and accept" a Western condition that Iran has previously resisted: that any talks "begin with a discussion of (Iran's) nuclear program".
A formal response by the P5+1, whose members are still consulting with each other, may not, however, be forthcoming until after the scheduled visit next week by a high-level delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the second in the past month. If Tehran accedes to certain requests that it denied the delegation in its last visit, confidence will be enhanced, U.S. officials said.
The latest developments come after several months of escalating tensions, the most recent spiral of which began in late December with the adoption of "crippling" sanctions by Washington and the EU and threats by some Iranian officials to close the ...