As Iran ended its ten-day naval exercise in the Gulf, on 2 January, by test-firing two medium-range missiles, the European External Action Service (EAS) said it was still waiting for a response to High Representative Catherine Ashton's October 2011 letter to Tehran.

"The ball is in the Iranians' court," noted EAS spokesman Michael Mann, on 3 January, when Europolitics asked whether negotiations between the international community and Tehran would start any time soon. "First they have to respond to Ashton's letter, then we'll judge how to react based on what their response says," Mann added.

In her letter, Ashton told Saeed Jalili, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, that the international community was ready to resume nuclear talks with the country, warning that the new round could not be a continuation of the January 2011 Istanbul talks, described as "disappointing".

On 3 January, Iranian officials said they were waiting for Ashton to specify a date and location for the nuclear talks to begin between Tehran and the 5+1 group (US, UK, Russia, France, China and Germany). However, the EU dismissed the demand the same day, saying that it was still waiting for an official response to Ashton's October letter. "How we and the international community react depends on the Iranians' response," Mann told Europolitics, adding that in the meantime, the EU remains "open to meaningful discussions with Iran on confidence-building measures, without pre-conditions on the Iranian side". A new series of sanctions against Iran is expected to be decided ahead of the 30 January...

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