MUNICH

Iran welcomes U.S. offer of direct talks, won’t commit

Iran’s foreign minister Sunday welcomed the United States’ willingness to hold direct talks with Tehran in the standoff over its nuclear program but didn’t commit to accepting the offer — insisting that Washington must show “fair and real” intentions to resolve the issue and complaining about “threatening rhetoric.”

Ali Akbar Salehi insisted that no Iranian “red line” is getting in the way of direct negotiations with Washington, but also pointed to deep mistrust between the two countries.

Salehi was speaking at the same international security conference where Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday said the United States was prepared to talk directly to Iran. Biden insisted that Tehran must show it is serious and that Washington won’t engage in such talks merely “for the exercise.”

Washington has indicated in the past that it’s prepared to talk directly with Iran on the nuclear issue, but so far nothing has come of it. Meanwhile, talks involving all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany have made little headway, while several rounds of international sanctions have cut into Iran’s oil sales and financial transactions.

The next round of talks with the six powers will be held Feb. 25 in Kazakhstan, Salehi told the Munich Security Conference.

Diplomats from some of those world powers have expressed frustration in recent weeks about what they say are Iran’s tactics of proposing several venues but not committing to any single one for the talks.

WASHINGTON

Kerry assures Palestinians, Israelis of U.S. peace pursuit

New Secretary of State John Kerry reached out to Israeli and Palestinian leaders in phone calls this weekend, assuring them the Obama administration will continue to pursue a Mideast peace agreement while recognizing the individual concerns on both sides.

Kerry told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of his and President Obama’s commitment to support Israel’s security and to pursue a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Netanyahu updated Kerry on his work to form a new government. They also discussed Iran and Syria, and pledged to work together closely.

Kerry commended the Israeli decision to release frozen tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority as an important step. Israel’s monthly tax transfers to the Palestinians — the result of taxes and customs duties that Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians — are a key element in the Palestinian government budget.

In his conversation Sunday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry said Obama “is very interested in the peace process and aware of the economic hardships of the Palestinian people,” Abbas spokesman Nabel Abu Rdeneh said.

Rdeneh also noted that Kerry said he would visit the region for further talks with Abbas “to preserve the political path.” No time was set for the visit.

MEXICO CITY

Two more bodies found in blast rubble, raising toll to 35

Mexico’s state-owned oil company says it has found two more bodies amid the rubble of a headquarters building damaged by a still-unexplained blast. The find raises the death toll of Thursday’s explosion to 35 people.

Petroleos Mexicanos operations director Carlos Murrieta had said that rescue crews were looking in the rubble for several more people reported missing, and believed their bodies were in the building’s most damaged part.

The bodies of two of the four more people reported missing by their relatives were recovered Sunday.

Officials still have not given any cause for the explosion; they have said they suspect it was an accident. The blast also injured 121 people.

Rescuers had initially concluded their search Friday but resumed operations when they suspected more bodies were in the rubble. 

– From news service reports