Talks with Iran? Both Sides Seem to Open the Door to Direct Dialogue

European countries are urging Obama to try to end the standoff.

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European countries, by and large, hope that the Obama administration will undertake more active U.S. diplomacy with Iran, says a senior European diplomat. That is a point of view that was heard frequently, if rarely openly, in European criticism of the Bush administration. "We have advocated a stronger role for the United States," said the diplomat. "U.S. participation [in Iran nuclear talks] is one of the West's trump cards."

The diplomat said that there was also strong interest on the part of Iranian young people for contact with the United States and that "the new administration would be well advised to engage in that openness."

The diplomat suggested that the Obama administration, which is reviewing Iran policy, has not yet decided how and when to engage the Iranian leadership. Iran's presidential election, planned for June, complicates any moves to begin a direct dialogue with Tehran, which Obama urged as a candidate.

But the Europeans are clearly hoping for relatively rapid moves from Washington. "We need early talks where we can talk about all these things," said the diplomat, referring not only to efforts to check Iran's nuclear program but also the issues of regional security, terrorism, and Mideast peace.

While there is currently no discussion of seeking further international sanctions against Iran, technical work on that possibility can continue and sanctions are not off the table altogether. "You need a convincing set of carrots and an equally convincing set of sticks," the diplomat said of an international approach to persuade Iran not to seek nuclear weapons capabilities.

Obama raised the prospect of direct talks in his press conference earlier this week, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Tuesday that Tehran is ready for dialogue with Washington "under equal conditions and with mutual respect."

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