Ashton, the foreign policy chief for the European Union , is representing the P5+1 -- the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, a group that has spearheaded attempts to negotiate with Iran over its controversial nuclear program.
Jalili is the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. He has long defended the Islamic Republic's right to enrich uranium, arguing that the goals the country's nuclear programs are peaceful.
The two will sit down in Istanbul, Turkey. A spokeswoman for Ashton said Monday that the meeting is part of continuing efforts to engage with Iran, according to Agence France-Presse.
While it is not a formal negotiating round, the meeting will be an opportunity to stress once again to Iran the need for an urgent and meaningful confidence building step and to show more flexibility with [previous proposals].
Recent meetings between Iran and representatives of major world powers failed to achieve a breakthrough. The most high-profile of these was held in Moscow this June. This was followed by experts' discussions in Turkey in July, but official high-level talks have yet to resume.
Meanwhile, the clock may be ticking. Israel has adopted increasingly strong rhetoric in recent months; defense hawks there are pushing for a pre-emptive military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, something most Western powers hope to delay. The European Union and the United States are instead pushing a policy of continuing tough sanctions and diplomatic isolation.
The last several reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency -- which has long been denied full access to Iranian nuclear facilities -- suggest that the Iranian Republic is making slow progress toward nuclear weapons capability, specifically by pursuing higher uranium enrichment levels and, most recently, doubling the number of centrifuges at its Fordow facility. On the other hand, much of Iran's nuclear equipment is far from modern, and it is widely assumed that Tehran has not decided to develop a nuclear weapon yet.
Tuesday's meeting between Ashton and Jalili aims to open up the doors of dialogue following summer's stalemate.
This is a chance for Lady Ashton ... to see what the Iranians are thinking, said U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, according to the L.A. Times. We're going the extra mile to offer them a face-to-face meeting to see what's up.