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Despite rhetoric, Iran and US appear to be trying to restart Iran nuclear talks

Iranian Foreign Minister Salehi said that Tehran is willing to return to talks on Iran's nuclear program and that discussions have already begun about a date and location.

Umit Bektas/REUTERS
Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi attends a meeting in Ankara January 18. Negotiations are under way to hold new talks between Western powers and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program and the most likely venue is Istanbul, but there is no date set, Salehi said on Wednesday.

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Iran's foreign minister today warned other countries in the region that allying themselves closely with the United States would put them in a "dangerous position." But despite the ongoing rhetoric, the two countries seem to be trying to find a way to return to talks and Israel is toning down its own aggressive rhetoric.

"We want peace and tranquility in the region. But some of the countries in our region, they want to direct other countries 12,000 miles away from this region," said Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi during a visit to Turkey, according to Reuters. "I am calling to all countries in the region, please don't let yourselves be dragged into a dangerous position."

Reuters reports that earlier this week Saudi Arabia said it could increase its oil output if that became necessary – a likely scenario if the European Union finalizes an embargo on Iranian oil at a Jan. 23 meeting next week, which it appears likely to do.

Iran, despite its fierce warnings, is showing a "new willingness to negotiate" ahead of the EU meeting and at a time when the US is moving toward implementation of a new law penalizing entities that deal with Iran's Central Bank, The New York Times reports.

Mr. Salehi said that Iran is "in touch" with world powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the US – about reopening talks on its controversial nuclear program, which have been frozen for a year. The Times reports that Salehi said that the date and site are already being discussed.

The US and the European Union both denied that they were considering talks, saying that they first needed proof that it was serious about allaying fears about nuclear weapon development, Reuters reports. Some Western diplomats believe that efforts to resume negotiations are simply a stalling tactic that would allow Iran more time to enrich uranium, according to the Times.

But Iranian leaders say that the Obama administration recently sent a letter to Iran regarding threats to close the Strait of Hormuz and requesting negotiations, Reuters reports. "In this letter it was said that closing the Strait of Hormuz is [America's] 'red line' and also asked for direct negotiations," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted lawmaker Ali Mottahari as saying.

Washington denied there were new discussions about resuming negotiations, but would not comment on whether such a letter existed. "There are no current talks about talks," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "What we are doing, as we have said, is making clear to the Iranians that if they are serious about coming back to a conversation, where they talk openly about their nuclear program, and if they are prepared to come clean with the international community, that we are open to that."

Salehi also said Iran had never attempted to close the Strait of Hormuz, despite its threats, Agence France-Presse reports.

Meanwhile, after several tense weeks that ratcheted up concerns that Israel would take unilateral action against Iran, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak publicly stated that the possibility of a preemptive strike against the Islamic Republic is "very far off," The New York Times reports.

The Times counts this as Israel's third step back from possible confrontation, the other two steps being Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's statement that he believed economic sanctions were beginning to have an effect on Iran and the agreement between the US and Israel to postpone a military drill. However, it also comes only a week after the assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist, which Iran has blamed on Israel.

US Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and thus the principal military adviser to President Obama, arrives in Israel today on his first official visit to the country. Many say he is likely there to warn Israel against attacking Iran, the Washington Post reports.

The International Atomic Energy Agency will be making a visit to Iran at the end of January to inspect nuclear facilities for evidence of weapon development, which intelligence has hinted at, according to Reuters. 

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