Representatives of six major powers have met in Germany for talks on Iran's disputed nuclear program and to coordinate foreign-policy approaches to the Islamic Republic.
The meeting of the so-called 5+1 -- Russia, the United States, China, Germany, Britain, and France -- came one day after Washington and other capitals expressed concern when Tehran announced it had launched a satellite into orbit for the first time.
It ended with a statement in which the representatives said they welcomed the recent offer by U.S. President Barack Obama to talk directly with Tehran over its nuclear program.
They emphasized their commitment to a "diplomatic solution" and urged Iran to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said the talks, in the city of Wiesbaden, were intended to demonstrate the unity of the six powers in their approach to Iran.
The gathering was the first since Obama's inauguration and was being watched closely for clues to how the new administration would work with other powers on the Iran issue.
While some Iranian officials have hinted they are open to new dialogue, Tehran remains steadfast in its defiance of international pressure to give up sensitive nuclear work, including uranium enrichment.
In what some analysts are taking as the latest signal of intransigence, Iran announced on February 3 that it had launched its first domestically produced satellite into orbit. Officials said the purpose of the launch was peaceful and that the satellite, carried on a Safir-2 rocket, was meant for research and telecommunications.
But the United States, Britain, and other countries have expressed concern that the technology could be used to propel long-range ballistic missiles.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton quickly warned Iran that "there will be consequences" if that country failed to comply with international demands on its nuclear program.
"Our administration will use all elements of our national power to deal with Iran and to help it be a responsible member of the international community," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said. But he also described the launch of the satellite as of "acute concern to this administration."
Iran is already facing three rounds of UN sanctions and U.S. financial measures over its refusal to give up uranium enrichment. The process has dual use and it can be used for peaceful purposes but also in the production of nuclear weapons.
On February 2, Iran's parliament speaker and former nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said that the concerns over Iran's nuclear program could be removed "by holding real negotiations and finding real solutions."
Iran has claimed that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, while U.S. officials have accused it of using the project as cover for a nuclear-weapons program.
The Obama administration has suggested it would offer Iran bigger incentives but also more punitive alternatives in order to halt enrichment activities.
"[Obama] will be willing to engage with Iran, willing to talk with Iran without preconditions," Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior nonproliferation expert at the London Based International Institute for International Studies, said ahead of the meeting, "and I think by talking to Iran, the United States will be able to make it clear that it is serious about offering the incentives if Iran were to accept the path of stopping the activity that is causing so much international concern."
Fitzpatrick said he thought Obama would show a new openness for discussion as he strengthens financial pressure and sanctions against Iran in conjunction with EU countries.
There are differing views about the short- and long-term benefits of such engagement, but international assessments of Iran's progress enriching uranium along with Tehran's continued support of extremist groups like Hamas and Hizballah suggest the question is a priority for Obama and Clinton.
Ahead of the talks, U.S. Secretary of State Clinton reiterated Washington's stance that it was ready to engage Iran.
"As President Obama said, we are reaching out a hand, but the fist has to unclench, and we will see how we proceed together toward a policy that we believe represents the objectives that we share vis-a-vis Iran," Clinton said.
U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns represented the United States at the closed-door "5+1" gathering.
The major powers reportedly agreed that Washington would consult with them on the next steps as it continues to review U.S. policy toward the Islamic republic.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had welcomed the U.S. administration's readiness to talk with Iran, calling the current stalemate unsustainable. In the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" daily on the eve of the Wiesbaden meeting, Steinmeier wrote: "I call on those responsible in Tehran to seize this opportunity."
"The policy of negotiation and financial pressure that [seems] to be the policy chosen by Obama is also the policy that EU countries have in mind," political analyst Alireza Haghighi told Radio Farda from Toronto ahead of the meeting. "So it's natural that the differences and rifts that existed between the U.S. and EU regarding Iran will be much less than before."