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Iran will be ready to resume nuclear talks with world powers as soon as the country's president-elect puts together his negotiating team, the foreign minister said Wednesday amid signals on both sides to try to quickly restart dialogue.
The comments by Ali Akbar Salehi follow a meeting in Brussels with members of the six-member group that reopened talks last year with Iran on its disputed nuclear program. The West fears the program is designed to develop atomic weapons, while Iran insists it is only for peaceful purposes.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the group — the five permanent U.N. Security Council nations plus Germany — seeks to resume negotiations "as soon as possible." Four rounds of talks since last year have failed so far to make significant headway, and no date has been proposed for their resumption.
Iran's newly elected president, Hasan Rouhani, himself a former top nuclear negotiator, is currently piecing together his government. He will be sworn-in early next month.
In separate comments attributed to Rouhani, he dismissed Israel's warnings of possible military action against Iran's nuclear program, telling veterans of the 1980-88 war with Iraq that they should scoff at threats from a "miserable country in the region."
The remarks were carried by tasnimnews, a newly established conservative news website. The statement was not reported by state media or other more established news outlets. Rouhani's advisers declined to comment.
At the Brussels meeting, no new offers were discussed, according to a Western diplomat with knowledge of the session. But the diplomat said the possibility was raised about "positive" steps — that could include easing sanctions — in return for more flexibility by the new chief negotiator for Iran, who will replace hard-liner Saeed Jalili. He finished a distant third in June's presidential election to the centrist Rouhani.
The diplomat was not authorized to brief media and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Shortly after Iran's election in June, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the Islamic Republic was willing to halt its 20 percent enrichment of uranium, which has been a key concession sought in the negotiations. Iran, however, has not publicly commented on the presumed offer or what other potential steps the country could take.
The 20 percent enriched uranium is much closer to warhead-grade material than the level needed for energy-producing nuclear reactors. Iran says it needs the higher enrichment for its medical research reactor.
Associated Press writer George Jahn in Vienna contributed to this report.