Speaking in the German parliament on Friday, Jan 20, Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged Iran not to snub new US President Barack Obama's offer to open direct talks with Tehran on the country's controversial nuclear program, saying diplomacy was the only way to solve the problem.
"It is good that Obama extended his hand and showed willingness to hold direct talks with Iran," the German foreign minister said. "That's why I'm calling on the Iranians to be sensible and be open to the US offer."
It should be done for the people in Iran who "are suffering from the isolation and confrontation resulting from the policies of Tehran and many are also going hungry," Steinmeier added.
Germany to scale back trade with Iran
His comments came as a German official confirmed on Friday that senior diplomats from six world powers trying to persuade Tehran to halt its nuclear program would meet in Berlin next week.
German foreign ministry official Jens Ploetner said that diplomats from the UN Security Council's permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany will meet on Wednesday near the western city of Frankfurt.
The six countries have offered Tehran a set of economic and energy incentives in exchange for halting its uranium enrichment program which the West suspects is being used as a cover to develop nuclear weapons.
Germany said this week it had drastically cut its export guarantees for companies trading with Iran.
Berlin's move came amid increased criticism, notably from the United States and Israel, over Germany's growing trade with Iran.
German exports to Iran rose 10.5 percent in the first 11 months of 2008 to reach 3.6 billion euros ($4.6 billion), according to government statistics.
US-Iran talks "long overdue"
Next Wednesday's meeting in Berlin of the six world powers on the Iranian nuclear program will mark the first gathering since Barack Obama took office on January 20.
In one of the biggest foreign policy reversals since taking the reins, Obama this week told Arab broadcaster Al-Arabiya he was willing to talk directly with Iran and map out a new future for US relations with Iran after a three-decade diplomatic freeze.
Washington is also at odds with Iran over its threats to destroy Israel as well as Tehran's support of the militant groups Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories. The US broke off diplomatic relations with Iran after hard-line students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979.
At the same time, Obama's administration has refused to rule out any options -- including military strikes -- if Tehran refuses to abandon its uranium enrichment program.
The head of the UN nuclear watchdog welcomed Obama's overtures and called for direct talks without conditions.
"It is the way to go. It is long overdue," Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said on Thursday on the sidelines of the Davos summit. "The security issue will not be resolved without direct dialogue between Iran and the US."
On Thursday, Iran, which insists its nuclear program is peaceful and solely geared toward electricity generation, promised a positive response if the United States makes genuine policy changes.
But earlier this week, Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad demanded Obama apologize for past US "crimes" against the Islamic republic.