Iran, the EU and the US will hold talks in Geneva on Monday, as Tehran seeks to renew contact with world powers after a 14 month break and placate its neighbours even though it holds firm on its nuclear programme.
Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili will meet the European Union's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, over two days in an undisclosed location in the western Swiss city, the Swiss foreign ministry confirmed.
The EU will be represented in the "P5+1", UN Security Council permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany – the same group of nations that last held direct talks on Iran's controversial nuclear programme in October 2009.
An EU source said: "This is an important meeting. We've waited a long time for it."
"It is not important because it will produce instant results but important because we hope it will produce a re-engagement with Iran which we hope will over time produce results," added the source.
In the past week, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been using soft language in several statements and interviews, acknowledging Iran's rights to acquire peaceful nuclear energy, while her top negotiator for the so-called P5+1 talks with Iran, William Burns, has been praising the effectiveness of the UN sanctions policy, calling for more.
In her address to a regional security summit, the "Manama Dialogue", Clinton said Iran could enrich uranium for civilian purposes in the future, but only once it has demonstrated it can do so in a responsible manner and in accordance with Iran's international obligations.
"The position of the international community on this issue is clear. All nations begin with the same rights and responsibilities. They have the right to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. But they must comply with the international safeguards that apply to states in order to prevent the diversion of that technology to destructive and destabilising military purposes" she stated.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad responded to Clinton’s speech, maintaining that Tehran was ready for nuclear negotiations with world powers; nevertheless the country's "inalienable rights" remained off limits.
"We are ready to negotiate but... [World powers] should acknowledge that the rights of the Iranian nation are non-negotiable. They should also stop being hostile."
Saeed Jalili , speaking at a press conference on Saturday in Tehran, affirmed that Iran welcomes the Geneva talks with world powers as a means to improve relations.
He warned, however, that increased sanctions on Iran, since similar talks in October 2009 failed to bear fruit, had proven ineffective. Jalili called on other parties to stop pressuring the Islamic Republic with punitive measures.
"The fact that the P5+1 have come to the conclusion that it should come to the talks, we welcome this fact. However, this is not enough," he said.
"In order for talks to continue, the wrong strategies of the past must be set aside and the talks should continue. Adopting a double standard will not do."
In the days before Clinton’s speech, Burns alleged that US sanctions imposed on Iran cost the regime as much as $60 billion in lost energy investments.
“According to reliable estimates, Iran may be losing as much as $50 billion to $60 billion overall in potential energy investments, along with the critical technology and know-how that comes with them,” Burns said in Washington at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.
Clinton also warned of more sanctions, urging Iran to enter into Monday nuclear talks in good faith.
"Unfortunately, the most recent IAEA report reflected once again that so far Iran has chosen a different path, one that leads to greater international concern, isolation, and pressure", Clinton said.
The United Nations Security Council in June adopted a resolution calling for trade and financial penalties. The US, European Union and nations including Japan and South Korea followed with their own sanctions.
The talks will begin one week after the murder, in Tehran, of a nuclear scientist which Iran has called a "terrorist" attack by Israeli, British and US intelligence services.
In Manama, Clinton directly addressed the Iranian delegation, urging them to show flexibility in the Geneva talks. The Iranian foreign minister used the floor to concentrate on the Arab delegations, assuring them that Iran would not use power against its regional neighbours.
"Our power in the region is your power and your power in the region is our power", he said in his speech.
He urged the Arab countries to help Iran "not allow Western media to tell us what we think of one another .... We have never used our potential to become powerful against any neighbours especially because our neighbours are Muslims."