European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana urged the United States on Friday to speak directly to Iran over its disputed nuclear program, saying he was sure Tehran was ready for such talks.
"We have to see how far the US is willing to engage. I think at this point in time, to have also the US opening a channel of communication with Iran will be worth thinking about," he said in a public discussion at a Brussels Forum on trans-Atlantic relations.
Iran says it is developing nuclear technology for power generation, but the West fears it is trying to build a bomb and UN sanctions have already been imposed on Tehran.
"It is very difficult to continue in a situation where Iran is considered a country with whom you cannot organize some sort of dialogue. I think that would be good. I am going to be talking to Washington in the next few days about that."
He was speaking after two days of talks with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, who he said was close to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Asked if he believed Khamenei was ready to allow talks with the United States, Solana answered, "I say without any hesitation, yes."
Solana said he would discuss the matter with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday.
US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried, who was in the audience, said Solana and Rice had already had a long conversation on the matter on Thursday so "they are in very close touch about this."
Fried said he could not announce any change in the US policy of refusing direct contact with Iran until it halts its most sensitive nuclear work -- uranium enrichment, which can be used to fuel power stations or make atomic weapons.
"Our position at the moment is well known," he said, acknowledging that the US stance had failed to induce Tehran to suspend enrichment, "so we're stuck."
In Washington, White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the United States "has offered to have talks with Iran for the first time in 27 years if they will suspend their enrichment and reprocessing activity."
Johndroe added, "We appreciate the good work of the EU and our EU3 partners and their efforts to get Iran to comply with the international community."
While nothing definitive resulted from Solana's talks with Larijani, which will reconvene in two weeks time, the overall tone was that they had been constructive and might be a route to resolving the stand-off.
The core dispute is Iran's insistence on a right to a sovereign nuclear energy industry against a UN demand that it halt all such activity to win a suspension of sanctions against it and launch negotiations leading to trade benefits for Tehran.
Senior officials of the six big powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- and the EU are to meet in London next week to review the Solana-Larijani dialogue and discuss whether a third, tougher sanctions resolution might be needed.
Solana said he still had between 30 and 45 days in which to achieve a breakthrough with Larijani, failing which the UN Security Council would have to adopt a third resolution.
Some diplomats and analysts say Iran and the six world powers handling Iran's atomic file may eventually need to accept a partial enrichment freeze under strict UN inspections to overcome the deadlock. But both sides have publicly denied this.
Solana said suspending enrichment remained the condition for starting formal negotiations with Tehran, but as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran would be entitled to a full civil nuclear program once it allayed legitimate suspicions.
Analysts say the key to resolving the crisis is finding a definition of an enrichment suspension both sides can stomach. This could, for example, mean suspending uranium fuel production but exempting the building or testing of centrifuge machines.