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US, EU Cautious on Iran Offer to Resume Talks

February 18, 2012

The United States and the European Union expressed cautious optimism Friday about Iran's offer to resume talks with world powers about its nuclear program.

Speaking at the State Department Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said they are evaluating an Iranian letter on restarting the stalled talks. The letter from Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili was a response to a letter Ashton sent in October.

Clinton called the Iranian response “an important step.”

“The international community has been looking to Iran to demonstrate it is prepared to come to the table in a serious and constructive way. We have been reviewing Iran's proposal to resume talks on its nuclear activities and consulting closely between us and with our other P5+1 partners. This response from the Iranian government is one we've been waiting for and if we do proceed, it will have to be a sustained effort that can produce results.”

The P5+1 group consists of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia — plus Germany.

Ashton, who represents the group in contact with Iran, said Friday that the letter signals a “potential possibility” that Iran may be ready to start talks.

“We'll continue to discuss and make sure that what we're looking at is substantive, but I'm cautious and I'm optimistic at the same time.”

The United States and EU have been increasing sanctions against Iran because of concerns it is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.

Ashton said sanctions are having an effect, but that the international community wants to resolve the nuclear issue through talks.

A major international banking hub, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication, or SWIFT, said Friday it is prepared to discontinue services to Iranian banks targeted by EU sanctions. It said it is ready to act as soon as it has clarity on EU legislation currently being drafted. Washington has been urging the EU to block Iranian banks' access to the cooperative.

Also Friday, the White House said National Security Advisor Tom Donilon will travel to Israel February from 18-20 for discussions on Iran, Syria and other regional security issues. Israeli leaders have warned repeatedly that Iran must be prevented from acquiring a nuclear bomb.

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