Washington, Apr 9: The United States has said it would start negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.
The decision is has being seen as a further step toward the direct engagement with Iran that US President Barack Obama has promised.
It followed an invitation to Iran to join in a new round of talks, which would include Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. It also coincided with an unusual expression of conciliation toward the United States by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, reports the New York Times.
Ahmadinejad said Wednesday in a speech in Isphahan that his government would welcome talks with the Obama administration, provided that the shift in American policy was "honest."
The Obama administration's decision is the latest in a series of gestures to Iran, ranging from Obama's videotaped New Year's greeting to the Iranian people three weeks ago to an impromptu encounter last week between an Iranian diplomat and a presidential envoy, Richard C Holbrooke.
The decision to negotiate with Iran was presented Wednesday to the other countries at a meeting in London by William J Burns, the State Department's third-ranking diplomat, who represents the United States in these talks.
He also briefed them on the administration's broader Iran policy review, which is nearing completion, the State Department said.
By showing a readiness to engage Iran, American officials said, the administration is trying to build support among allies like Germany and France, and more skeptical players, like Russia, so that if diplomatic efforts fail, it can marshal support for tougher sanctions against Tehran.