Iran may be ready for nuclear talks

Iran is ready to hold talks with six major powers over its nuclear program “in late October or early November,” Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Saturday.

“We think late October or early November will be an appropriate date for the talks by the representatives of Iran and 5+1 countries,” Mottaki told a news conference.

He gave no details about the venue of the talks. Western officials say they could take place in Vienna or Geneva.

“If Iran is ready to hold talks, all they need to do is pick up the phone and set a date,” U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said.

Talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — as well as Germany — meant to address concerns about Tehran’s uranium enrichment, stalled in October last year, leading to a toughening of international sanctions.

A spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said there was no official date set for nuclear talks with Iran.

“This is news to us. There has been no official date set for talks, nor has there been any official correspondence received by … Ashton or her services with regard to a date for talks,” the spokesman said.

Ashton “remains ready to talk and is hopeful this can happen very soon,” he said.

The United States and its European allies fear Iran’s declared civilian nuclear energy program is a cover to develop the capability of producing nuclear weapons.

Iran, the world’s fifth-largest oil producer, says it needs nuclear fuel-making technology to generate electricity.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has set conditions for further talks, saying a greater variety of countries must be involved, the parties must say whether they seek friendship or hostility with Iran, and they must express a view on Israel’s alleged nuclear arsenal.

The West is wary of what it sees as Iranian efforts to dodge the main issue in talks, buying time for advances in uranium enrichment.

(Reporting by Hashem Kalantari, and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Cooney)