|Ali Akbar Salehi said negotiations were under way over a venue and a date for talks with Western powers [Reuters]
Iran's foreign minister says his country is in negotiations to agree a venue and a date for new talks regarding its controversial nuclear programme, but the European Union denied that discussions had taken place.
Ali Akbar Salehi, speaking during a visit to Turkey on Wednesday, said the location for possible talks would probably be Istanbul.
"Negotiations are going on about venue and date. We would like to have these negotiations," said Salehi. "Most probably, I am not sure yet, the venue will be Istanbul. The day is not yet settled, but it will be soon."
Meanwhile, a member of the Iranian parliament told the semi-official Fars news agency that US President Barack Obama had written directly to Iran's supreme leader to propose direct talks.
But Ali Motahari said the letter also warned Iran that closing the Strait of Hormuz, which Tehran has threatened to do in retaliation to tightening sanctions, was a "red line" for Washington.
"The first part of the letter contains threats and the second part contains an offer for dialogue," said Motahari.
But a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, representing the six countries involved in talks with Iran, denied there were any fresh discussions with Tehran to organise a meeting.
"There are no negotiations under way on new talks," he said in Brussels. "We are still waiting for Iran to respond to the substantive proposals the High Representative (Ashton) made in her letter from October."
The UK was also dismissive. "There are no dates or concrete plans because Iran has yet to demonstrate clearly that it is willing to respond to Baroness Ashton's letter and negotiate without preconditions," a spokesman for the British foreign office said.
"Until it does so, the international community will only increase pressure on it through further peaceful and legitimate sanctions," he said.
The last talks between Iran and the permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, the UK, France, Russia and China - along with Germany stalled in Istanbul a year ago, with the parties unable to agree even on an agenda.
Tensions between Iran and the West are rising with the US and the EU preparing to embargo Iran's oil industry over its refusal to suspend a nuclear programme that the West suspects is intended to develop nuclear weapons.
EU foreign ministers are expected to approve an embargo on Iranian oil at a meeting on January 23, diplomats say.
"Ahead of (that meeting) Iran is chasing headlines and pretending that it is ready to engage," a Western diplomat said in reference to Salehi's remarks.
"If it really is ready to sit down without preconditions the (six powers) would do so. Sadly, at the moment, it seems more interested in propaganda".
Tehran says other countries must respect its right to enrich uranium, the nuclear fuel which, if enriched to much higher levels than that suitable for power plants, can provide material for atomic bombs.
Iran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons and says its activities are for power generation and medical applications.
Russia, which has criticised the new EU and US sanctions, said on Wednesday that any military action by Israel or the US against Iran would ignite a disastrous, widespread Middle East war.
"On the chances of whether this catastrophe will happen or not you should ask those who repeatedly talk about this," Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreignn minister, told a news conference in Moscow.
"I have no doubt that it would pour fuel on a fire which is already smouldering, the hidden smouldering fire of Sunni-Shia confrontation, and beyond that (it would cause) a chain reaction. I don't know where it would stop."