The European Parliament building in Strasbourg (Photo: Reuters)
The European Union urged Iran's new president Monday to make "rapid progress" towards resolving concerns over the country's disputed nuclear programme after he struck an apparently more conciliatory stance.
The West is hoping that President Hassan Rowhani will take a more constructive approach in the long-running talks on Tehran's nuclear drive, which despite Iranian denials is suspected by world powers of having military objectives.
On Sunday, he repeated his campaign promise to help Iranians who are struggling under the weight of US and EU economic sanctions and called for "mutual respect" with the West, striking a sharply different tone from his predecessor.
"We take note of the new President's words," said Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton, who has led talks with Tehran on the nuclear dispute.
"We hope that the new Iranian government will be prepared to make rapid progress towards addressing international concerns about its nuclear programme and engage constructively on the [P5+1] proposal for confidence-building," Mann said.
Western powers believe the Iranian nuclear programme is being used to develop an atomic bomb, but Tehran insists it is for peaceful purposes.
In his inaugural speech Sunday, the new president said Iranians were under "a lot of economic pressure" because of tough US and EU sanctions over Iran's refusal to stop uranium enrichment.
"The only path to interact with Iran is through negotiations on equal grounds, reciprocal trust-building, mutual respect and reducing hostilities," he said.
"If you want a proper answer, do not speak with Iran with the language of sanctions but with the language of respect," Rowhani added.
The White House said Iran would find the United States a "willing partner" if Rowhani was serious.
Ashton is lead negotiator with Iran for the P5+1 group, which is made up of the five permanent UN Security Council members, Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany.
She met Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Istanbul in May for talks he described as "long and useful" after fruitless discussions the previous month in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
US and EU sanctions have crippled Iran's once lucrative oil sector, cut its access to global banking and contributed to soaring inflation and a shrinking economy.