TEHRAN Iran is ready to return to nuclear talks with major powers "as soon as tomorrow," but only if the subject of the negotiations is made clear in advance, a senior official said on Monday.
Last week, the European Union proposed a three-day negotiation in mid-November between Iran and six powers -- the United States, Russia, France, Britain, China and Germany -- in Vienna, where the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency is based.
Similar talks, aimed at building trust over Iran's uranium enrichment programme, appeared to make progress a year ago on the topic of a nuclear fuel swap but then stalled, leading to tightened international sanctions against Iran.
"Resumption of negotiation for the sake of negotiation is of no value. That is why the content of the negotiation and its goals must be specified clearly (beforehand)," Abolfazl Zohrevan, deputy secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, was quoted as saying by the student news agency ISNA.
He said that if the representative of the six powers, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, came forward with a clear negotiation framework, the talks could begin "as early as tomorrow." Zohrevan reiterated that Iran expected the six powers to meet certain conditions before talks can start.
Iran's terms are that a greater variety of states should join the talks, the parties must say whether they seek friendship or hostility with Iran and they must state their view on the alleged nuclear arsenal of Tehran's arch-enemy, Israel.
Western officials have dismissed such conditions as irrelevant to what they regard as the main topic in talks -- regulating Iran's nuclear work and making it more transparent -- and a possible diversion to buy time for advances in enrichment.
Also on Monday, Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said it had launched a large-scale prospecting operation in central and southern regions of the country to locate new deposits of uranium to fuel its nascent nuclear power industry.
"Subsequent to launching the Bushehr nuclear power plant, we put our top priority on the discovery of uranium so we will be able to meet our needs entirely from domestic sources," the agency's head, Ali Akbar Salehi, was quoted as saying by the semi-official Mehr news agency.
The Russian-built 1,000 megawatt Bushehr reactor is due to start supplying Iran's first civilian nuclear energy in early 2011, after years of delays.
Iran insists it has every right to peaceful nuclear technology and is not seeking a nuclear bomb. It plans to build as many as 20 reactors during the next two decades.
Sceptical countries say Iran continues to refuse unfettered access for U.N. nuclear inspectors and is enriching uranium to a level of purity above that needed for civilian power stations, advancing toward the threshold required for an atomic bomb.
Iran says the higher-scale enrichment will eventually go toward replenishing fuel stocks of a medical research reactor.
(Writing by Hashem Kalantari; editing by Mark Heinrich)