Foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi says Washington has to prove its intentions are 'fair and real' to resolve the issue.
Iran welcomes US offer of direct talks over its nuclear research programme
MUNICH // Iran's foreign minister yesterday welcomed the willingness of the United States to hold direct talks with Tehran in the standoff over its nuclear programme.
But Ali Akbar Salehi did not commit to accepting the offer. He insisted that Washington must show "fair and real" intentions to resolve the issue, and complained about "threatening rhetoric".
He said Iran did not have a "red line" that was getting in the way of negotiations, but pointed to deep mistrust between the countries.
Mr Salehi was speaking at the the Munich Security Conference, where the US vice president, Joe Biden, on Saturday said Washington was prepared talk directly to Iran. But he insisted that Tehran must show it was serious and teh US woould not engage in such talks merely "for the exercise".
Washington has previously indicated it was prepared to talk directly with Iran on the nuclear issue, but so far nothing has come of it.
Talks involving the five permanent members of the UN security council plus Germany have also made little headway, while several rounds of international sanctions have cut into Iran's oil sales and financial transactions.
The next round of talks with the six UN powers will take place on February 25 in Kazakhstan, Mr Salehi told the conference. He said Mr Biden's comments were "a step forward" but that getting the US and Iran together for one-to-one talks would be no easy task.
"We have no red line for bilateral negotiations when it comes to negotiating over a particular subject," said Mr Salehi. "If the subject is the nuclear file, yes, we are ready for negotiations but we have to make sure ... that the other side this time comes with authentic intention, with a fair and real intention to resolve the issue."
He said it was "contradictory" if the US said it was willing to hold talks "but on the other side you use this threatening rhetoric that everything is on the table ... these are not compatible with each other".
"We are ready for engagement only when it is on equal footing," he added.
Iran insists it has a right to enrich uranium for its nuclear-power programme and last month announced plans to increase the pace. Suspicion persists the real aim is to develop a nuclear bomb.
Vali Nasr,the dean of the Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, sounded a sceptical note about the prospect of direct Iran-US talks any time soon.
"I think these are good statements that both sides are at least open to this [but] I think there have to be some ideas about how you get them to the table in a credible way," he said.
Iran is a key ally of the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad. On the sidelines of the Munich meeting, Mr Salehi met the top Syrian opposition leader, Moaz Al-Khatib.