The prospects of the nuclear talks between Iran and the six global powers have brightened after European Union (EU) foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, using Turkish diplomatic channels, responded positively to Tehran's offer to resume the stalled dialogue.

Iran's daily Tehran Times, reporting on the joint press conference in Tehran by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Salehi, said the visiting Minister had carried a message from Ms. Ashton to Iranian officials, calling for the resumption of nuclear talks. Ms. Ashton leads the five permanent Security Council members and Germany in a dialogue with Iran centred on Tehran's nuclear programme.

Addressing the press conference, Mr. Davutoglu said: “I gave [Ms.] Ashton's message to Mr. Salehi, the Foreign Minister of Iran, [and] the Foreign Minister of Iran also expressed readiness [for dialogue].”

Ms. Ashton's reciprocation came after Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, on December 31 invited the global powers for a new round of talks. The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) quoted Mr. Jalili as saying: “We formally declared to them [the intent] to return to the path of dialogue for cooperation.”

During the press conference, Mr. Davutoglu hoped that the resumption of dialogue with Iran would “calm down” the existing “unfavourable climate” that Iran and the West were experiencing. In a show of strength, Iran has just concluded naval manoeuvres, suggesting that if pushed to the brink, it would block the oil transit channel of the Strait of Hormuz — a move that was likely to spiral oil prices beyond control and hurt Western economies. Iran's naval exercises have followed Washington's threat that it would block Iran's oil exports — a grim warning that Tehran has termed as a declaration of “economic war”. Iran and the six global powers had, a year ago, met in Istanbul, but the talks there failed to achieve a breakthrough. Earlier, a trilateral dialogue among Turkey, Brazil and Iran had led to the signing of the “Tehran declaration”, which had ignited hopes of imparting tangible momentum to nuclear diplomacy involving Iran and its six interlocutors.

At the press conference, Mr. Salehi said that he endorsed Ms. Ashton's suggestion that Turkey should be the venue of the next round of talks. “Personally I think that Turkey is the best place for the talks to take place,” Mr. Salehi observed.

Hoping to shape the upcoming dialogue, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday telephoned to convey to his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev that Tehran supported Moscow's efforts to use diplomacy to resolve the crisis surrounding his country's nuclear programme. Iran's Ambassador to Russia Seyed Mahmoud Reza Sajjadi said Tehran supported Moscow's revised “step-by-step” approach which not only recognises Iran's rights to access peaceful nuclear energy, but also “calls for the removal of the different dimensions of sanctions in return of each step by Iran”.

Midair during his return from Tehran, Mr. Davutoglu told journalists travelling with him that Turkey and Iran should assume leadership for healing the region's sectarian Sunni-Shia rift, which was finding a particularly ominous expression in Iraq. Recent sectarian attacks have targeted Iraq's majority Shia community, soon after the withdrawal of American forces from the country.

Turkish daily Today's Zaman quoted Mr. Davutoglu as saying that a pervasive dialogue between Iran and Turkey “could become an opportunity to avert sectarian conflicts in the region”.

Iran exercises substantial influence in Iraq, but Mr. Davutoglu said that Turkey, too, bonded well not only with the country's Sunni community, but also with Iraq's Shias and Kurds, who mainly reside in northern Iraq. During his stay in Iran, the visiting Minister held talks with influential Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

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