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« The Story Behind US Gas Price Pain | Main | Uranium One Announces Record Revenue of $530 Million and Total Cash Costs of $14 per Pound for 2011 »

EU Announces Resumption of Talks with Iran

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced on Tuesday that the international community had agreed to resume talks with Iran on the country's controversial nuclear program. Tehran has even offered to open up one suspicious site to inspectors.

For an entire year, talks between the international community and Iran on the country's controversial nuclear program have been frozen. Instead, Tehran has engaged in war games in the Gulf and threatened to close down the Strait of Hormuzwhile Europe and the United States have imposed an ever tighter regime of sanctions on Iran.

On Tuesday, however, the ice cracked. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced that the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- the US, China, Russia, France and Great Britain -- plus Germany had agreed to restart talks with Iran. Ashton said she had responded positively to a letter from Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in which he had offered new talks.

"We hope that Iran will now enter into a sustained process of constructive dialogue which will deliver real progress in resolving the international community's long-standing concerns on its nuclear program," Ashton said in a statement.

In the letter, Ashton said that the goal of the talks "remains a comprehensive negotiated, long-term solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program." Exactly when and where the talks will take place remains unclear.

A key element in the decision to renew the talks was Iran's offer to allow United Nations inspectors to visit the Parchin facility, a place where Iranian scientists have allegedly simulated nuclear explosions. In January, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were not allowed access to the site, a move which ratcheted up tensions between the global nuclear watchdog and Tehran.

'Pressure on Iran'

Despite the offer to allow inspectors to visit Parchin, details of such a visit have not yet been finalized. Tehran has indicated that it is unwilling to reveal the management structure of its nuclear program, and

nor does it want to hand over a list of its foreign purchases.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague issued a statement saying that pressure will "be on Iran to convince the international community that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful." He added: "Until those actions are taken, we will not ease the international pressure on Iran."

Tuesday's announcement comes after weeks of increased tensions surrounding Iran's nuclear program. Following a report by the IAEA last year in which the Vienna-based body expressed its clearest concern yet that Iran was developing nuclear weapons, both the US and Europe tightened their sanctions regime. Washington targeted the activities of the Iranian central bank while Europe agreed to slap an oil embargo on Tehran beginning this summer.

Little Progress in the Past

Just on Monday, IAEA head Yukiya Amano said that his agency "continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program." He cited recent efforts at the underground nuclear facility at Fordo to significantly increase uranium enrichment as being particularly worrisome.

Iran's nuclear program was also a key element of talks in Washington on Monday between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama. Israel has threatened air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities and the US has likewise not ruled out a military option, though Obama has sought to rein in his Israeli counterpart.

In the past, nuclear talks with Iran have made little progress, with the latest round breaking off in failure in January 2011. The West has consistently demanded that Iran cease uranium enrichment efforts prior to making concessions of its own while Iran continues to insist on its right to a civilian nuclear program. Tehran continues to deny that it is interested in procuring nuclear weapons.

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