ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey's foreign minister on Thursday called for the immediate resumption of talks between Iran and major world powers to end the standoff over Tehran's disputed nuclear program.
Ahmet Davutoglu said at a joint news conference with Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi that Turkey was ready to host and "make any other kind of contribution" to talks between Iran and six countries leading negotiations — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
"What is important is for these negotiations to start immediately and for the tensions to be reduced," Davutoglu said. "It is important that the hurdles in front of the talks are removed."
Salehi, who is ending a two-day visit to Turkey, said the six powers should enter talks without "excuses".
"If there are excuses, it is a sign that they oppose and do not approve of the negotiations," he said.
Iranian officials have said they favor Turkey as a venue for further talks with the six powers.
The effort to revive the nuclear talks come as the U.S. and Europe have moved to step up sanctions against Iran.
The U.S. last month enacted new sanctions targeting Iran's central bank and its ability to sell petroleum abroad, though it has delayed implementing the sanctions for at least six months, worried about sending the price of oil higher at a time when the global economy is struggling. Iran has threatened to close the strategic Strait of Hormuz in response to sanctions.
The U.S. and its western allies charge that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Iran has consistently denied that, saying its nuclear program is peaceful, aimed at producing electric power and isotopes for cancer treatment.
Earlier on Thursday, Salehi repeated a claim that President Barack Obama had called for direct talks with Iran in a secret letter to the Islamic Republic's supreme leader that also warned Tehran against closing the Strait of Hormuz.
"They are flexing their muscle (in public) but they are also secretly saying 'come talk with us,'" Salehi told Turkey's NTV television in an interview, which was aired with a voice-over Turkish translation. "The U.S. government should act in an open and honest way."
Obama administration officials denied there was such a letter.
Also Thursday, Australia's foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, urged China and other Asian countries to take "due note" of international efforts to tighten sanctions against Iran.
Rudd was speaking in Paris just days before the European Union discusses a potential bloc-wide oil embargo against Tehran for the way it has handled its nuclear program.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe says that he is hopeful that the EU will come to an agreement on an oil embargo and a freeze on some Iranian assets abroad. EU foreign ministers will discuss Iran in meetings in Brussels next week.