VIENNA Iran has told the EU's foreign policy chief it is ready to hold fresh nuclear talks, but won't back down on its "rights" in its nuclear row with the West.
The letter from Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, dated September 6 and obtained by Reuters on Tuesday, seemed unlikely to be welcomed by Western powers as signaling a substantive step forward.
Talks could resume "as soon as you are ready," the letter, in English, said. "The Islamic Republic of Iran believes that a just negotiation and talk is the only way to remove existing misunderstandings in all areas."
Jalili spoke of the "necessity of achieving a comprehensive, long-term and negotiated solution for both sides."
But he also said any "measures that would lead to the deprivation" of the rights of states, "including the noble nation of Iran, is unacceptable."
"The Islamic Republic of Iran as an active party to the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) has always been and is still of the firm belief in the necessity of realization of the legal rights as well as obligations without any kinds of discrimination."
When using such language, Iran usually refers among other things to what it sees as its right to enrich uranium, activity it says is aimed at fuelling nuclear power plants but which the West suspects is part of a covert drive to develop atomic arms.
Jalili's letter said Iran would be ready to cooperate with other countries in disarmament and non-proliferation. It made no mention of repeated requests by the U.N. nuclear watchdog that Iran address concerns it may be working on a nuclear-armed missile, a charge Tehran has said is based on forged evidence.
Iran has often said it is willing to resume talks. But its insistence that other countries recognize its right to enrich uranium is a major stumbling block, particularly for Western diplomats who see it as an unacceptable pre-condition.
A spokesman for Ashton, who in December and January led two rounds of discussions with Iran on behalf of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, said on Sunday Jalili's letter would be studied "carefully."
The last round of talks in January failed after Iran refused to halt its uranium enrichment, as demanded by the U.N. Security Council.
The non-proliferation treaty allows signatory states to develop nuclear power but bars them from developing atomic weapons. Uranium enriched to a low level of fissile purity is suitable for running civilian nuclear power plants. If refined to a much higher degree, it can form the core of nuclear bombs.
In May, the EU rejected a similar letter from Tehran requesting nuclear talks, saying it contained nothing new that would justify a further round of meetings.
Iran, one of the world's largest oil producers, has been hit by tightening international sanctions for refusing to halt its sensitive nuclear activities.
The country has in recent weeks signaled increased openness and willingness to cooperate with the U.N. watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
"We have answered all the IAEA questions and will do so in future as well," one of Iran's vice presidents, Nasrin Soltankhah, told a news conference in Vienna on Tuesday.
Western diplomats have dismissed this as an Iranian "charm offensive" without substance and an apparent attempt by Tehran to buy time for its disputed nuclear work.
"Iran continues to develop an ambitious nuclear program that is diffuse in the nature of its distribution of sites and coordinated in its approach to achieve nuclear weapons capability," said Olli Heinonen, a former senior IAEA official.
Since talks between the powers and Iran foundered in January, Russia has advocated a phased plan in which Tehran would address concerns that it may be seeking nuclear weapons, and be rewarded with an easing of sanctions.
(Additional reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Peter Graff)