Countries leading the drive to resolve concerns about Iran's nuclear program welcomed the new U.S. administration's readiness to engage with Tehran, a German official said Wednesday.
Foreign Ministry officials from Germany and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. — met Wednesday in Wiesbaden, near Frankfurt, for their first meeting since President Barack Obama took office.
The new U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, has said Obama's administration will engage in "direct diplomacy" with Iran. In his inaugural address, Obama addressed leaders of hostile nations by saying that "we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
The U.S. was represented at the closed-doors meeting by the State Department's third-ranking official, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns — a career diplomat who also served under the Bush administration.
Report back to Clinton
In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood said Burns will report back directly to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on his discussions in Wiesbaden. Wood said Burns was not able to tell the meeting how soon the Obama administration will complete its review of U.S. policy on Iran.
"Obviously, he's not able to communicate any kind of time frame," Wood said. "As I said, that process will have to run its course, but obviously, we're very committed to trying to do it as swiftly as possible."
"The readiness of the new administration to reach out to Iran was explicitly welcomed by all at today's meeting in Wiesbaden," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner said at a government news conference in Berlin.
He underlined Germany's hopes that Iran will respond positively to the new overtures from Washington. "We hope that this outstretched hand will not be seen as a sign of weakness in Tehran," he said.
Ploetner said Wednesday's meeting offered "an important opportunity to stress again the cohesion and the unity" of the six nations.
Russia's Interfax news agency reported that Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said officials from Washington set a new tone at the meeting, and dangled a possibility of direct talks with Iran.
"Certain signals have been issued, the tone and perhaps to some extent the content of which, differ from the policy pursued by the Bush administration," Ryabkov was quoted by Interfax as saying.
He added that "as I understand, it is not a formalized proposal, but a signal of intent," Interfax reported.
The six nations have offered Iran a package of incentives if it suspends uranium enrichment and enters into talks on its nuclear program. At the same time, the U.N. Security Council has imposed sanctions to pressure Iran to comply.
The U.S. and its allies allege that Iran wants to develop its uranium enrichment program to make nuclear weapons. However, Iran insists it is only seeking nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Iran launched an Omid satellite on Monday — arousing concern among analysts and officials in Europe, the U.S. and Israel about possible links between its satellite program and its work with missiles and nuclear technology.