Britain awaits 'concrete' steps by Iran: Hague

UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) - The international community is waiting for "concrete steps" by Iran before moving to improve relations with the country's new government, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Monday.

After meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Mr Hague welcomed conciliatory statements by the new government and said moves could be made to end a suspension in ties since Britain's Tehran embassy was ransacked in November 2011.

Mr Hague said he and Mr Zarif had discussed Iran's contested nuclear programme, the Syria conflict and signals coming from President Hassan Rowhani that he wants better relations with the West.

Britain "does not seek a confrontational relationship with Iran, as I explained to the foreign minister, and we are open to better relations," Mr Hague told reporters.

"The time is now right for those statements to be matched by concrete steps by Iran to address the international community's concerns about Iran's intentions. And if such steps are taken then I believe a more constructive relationship can be created between us," he added.

"Of course we urge them firmly down that path," Mr Hague said. "We will be ready to reciprocate in many ways."

Mr Hague said Iran had to revive talks with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - the so-called E3+3 group - over its suspect nuclear programme, as well as on bilateral ties, frozen after Tehran demonstrations blamed on hardline followers of the Iranian government.

He called on Iran to "play a constructive role" in the Syria conflict by ending its support for President Bashar al-Assad, supporting a Syria peace accord that the United Nations is trying to broker and to improve its own human rights.

Mr Hague said the two ministers had agreed bilateral relations should be improved on a "step-by-step" basis.

"I said to Mr Zarif how damaging it was, of course, to our relations when our embassy compounds were overrun, when our staff were mistreated, the Vienna convention flouted, in November 2011," Mr Hague said. Britain ordered Iran to close its London embassy following the Tehran attack.

Mr Hague added that that he and Mr Zarif "have now asked our officials to do further work" on improving ties.

But he stressed that a British embassy could only reopen if it could function "without the harassment and without the difficulties that were placed in the way of it before". "But we have started our discussions on improving our bilateral relationship. I think that is the most we can say for now," he said.

Mr Hague will take part in a ministerial meeting of the E3+3 powers with Mr Zarif in New York on Thursday.