NEW YORK Foreign ministers of major powers told Iran Wednesday they hope for an early negotiated solution to the stand-off over its nuclear program as well as fresh talks on a potential atomic fuel swap plan.
"Our objective continues to be a comprehensive long-term negotiated solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program," the statement said. It was released by China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The statement, identical to a draft earlier obtained by Reuters, was read to reporters by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who hosted a meeting of the six powers at the EU mission in New York.
The group, known as the P5+1, united in June to pass tough new U.N. sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, which Western countries fear is aimed at producing nuclear weapons. Tehran says the program is purely for peaceful purposes.
Since then, Western nations have repeatedly urged Iran to return to the negotiating table, but with little success. Officials from the six said there had been attempts to contact Iran about a possible future meeting.
"So far at least there has been a resounding silence in response to those efforts," a senior U.S. administration official told reporters. "There have been some indications of their willingness to (meet). We just need to pin it down."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said after the meeting that, "Now is the time for Iran to engage in real negotiation, in actual constructive dialogue, about its whole nuclear program."
"I will say this when I meet with their Foreign Minister, (Manouchehr) Mottaki, later today," Hague said.
IMPLEMENTING THE SANCTIONS
A senior diplomat said that if Tehran refused to engage constructively with the six, they would probably return to the Security Council to consider further punitive steps against Iran, though that would not happen anytime soon.
The statement said the group discussed the implementation of the U.N. sanctions, which the United States says are putting pressure on Tehran.
China and Russia were initially reluctant to pass the new sanctions, and their continued full implementation of the measures is seen as key to their ultimate success. The senior diplomat said it would take some time before it became clear how well U.N. member states are implementing the measures.
The statement said the group remained ready to talk to Iran about resuming a short-lived deal struck last October under which Iran would agree to move most of its enriched uranium out of the country.
It added that it would welcome a meeting of the "Vienna Group" comprised of Russia, France, the United States and the International Atomic Energy Agency, to discuss technical elements of a revised arrangement to supply fuel for a medical research reactor.
"We look forward to Iran's positive and constructive participation in this dialogue," the statement said.
Late Wednesday Iran's English-language state Press TV reported an Iranian delegation headed by the country's Atomic Energy Organization chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, had met with IAEA chief Yukiya Amano in Vienna "to discuss providing fuel for the Tehran research reactor."
"The meeting was mainly concentrated on Tehran's research reactor and supplying fuel for it," Press TV said on its website.
"At the end of the meeting, the IAEA chief expressed optimism that there could be a meeting between Iran and the Vienna Group -- France, Russia, the US and the IAEA -- soon."
Although Iran backed out of the October deal, Tehran showed renewed interest in a possible arrangement in May after talks with Turkey and Brazil.
The original plan had been seen by the West as a way of divesting Iran of potential nuclear bomb material but officials say it has now lost much of its value because Iran's enriched uranium stockpile has more than doubled in the interim.
The United States has repeatedly said it hopes for a full engagement with Iran on the broad scope of its nuclear program and any potential fuel swap deal would be just one part of the discussion.
(Additional reporting by Missy Ryan and Louis Charbonneau; editing by David Storey and Cynthia Osterman)