United States and five other powers said Tuesday they were committed to direct talks with Iran to defuse a standoff over its disputed nuclear work, underlining a US turnabout from a policy of confrontation.
Speaking at a UN nuclear watchdog meeting, the six voiced serious concern at Iran's atomic advances and increasing restrictions on UN inspectors trying to keep track of them but did not mention toughening sanctions as a way to rein in Iran.
"We remain firmly committed to a comprehensive diplomatic solution, including through direct dialogue," the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China said in a statement to the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors.
"(We) urge Iran to take this opportunity for engagement with us and thereby maximize opportunities for a negotiated way forward," France's IAEA governor, Olivier Caron, told the 35-nation gathering in Vienna.
In a switch from predecessor George W. Bush's strategy of isolating rather than talking to US foes, US President Barack Obama has said he would be open to engaging with Iran on a range of issues, from its nuclear ambitions to how it could help bring about peace in Afghanistan.
Iran has reacted cautiously, saying it is open to fair talks while demanding fundamental changes in US policy, by which it means US-driven sanctions, accusations Iran actively seeks nuclear weapons and supports terrorism.
Still, a fresh US commitment under Obama to multilateral cooperation to solve frozen conflicts has cheered many at the IAEA, raising hopes of coaxing Iranian cooperation and easing fear of war shattering non-proliferation efforts.
'Iran must reciprocate'
The six powers omitted mention of sanctions, common in statements by Western members at earlier IAEA meetings, to preserve unity - Russia and China oppose further punitive steps - and underscore a direct diplomatic approach critically undermined by Washington's pointed absence under Bush.
But they stressed Iran had to reciprocate by suspending enrichment and giving inspectors documentation and on-the-ground access to resolve allegations of secret military dimensions to Iran's nuclear fuel program.
Iran, they said, must also grant wider-ranging inspections beyond declared nuclear sites to allay mistrust in its goals.
Iran says it is enriching uranium for a planned network of nuclear power plants, not weapons as Western powers suspect.
But the European Union said the situation has worsened due to an "alarming, continuous" increase in Iran's centrifuge production capacity and stockpile of enriched uranium "that has no obvious civilian application" because it lacked power plants.
The United States, addressing IAEA governors on its own on Monday, held out the prospect of direct engagement with Iran, Syria and North Korea to help the UN watchdog tackle suspected proliferation challenges posed by the three nations.
The United States cut off all relations with Iran in 1980 after militants took US diplomats and officials hostage.