Thursday 1 June 2006
Last Update 1 June 2006 12:00 am
WASHINGTON, 1 June 2006 — The United States, in a policy shift, is ready to join direct talks on Iran’s nuclear program if Tehran suspends all uranium enrichment activities, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday.
Rice made the offer of the first substantive talks with Iran since diplomatic relations were broken off 26 years ago as she prepared to leave for a crucial meeting of world powers in Vienna on Tehran’s suspected nuclear arms program.
“To underscore our commitment to a diplomatic solution and to enhance the prospects for success, as soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table with our EU-3 colleagues and meet with Iran’s representatives,” she said in prepared remarks.
The United States is keeping “all options,” including a military one, on the table against Iran and the resumption of diplomatic ties is not under consideration, Rice said.
President George W. Bush later told reporters at the White House the United States will play a leading role in resolving the international impasse with Iran over its nuclear program.
“I believe it is very important that we solve this issue diplomatically and my decision today is that the United States is going to take a leadership position in solving this issue,” Bush said.
“I believe this problem can be solved diplomatically, and I want to give it every effort to do so,” the US leader said, saying that the United States would engage in “robust diplomacy” to end the standoff.
The US president added, however, that Washington will hold fast to its insistence that Iran abandon its alleged efforts to create a nuclear weapon.
To underscore the opening to the Islamic republic, a senior State Department official said a copy of the statement had been handed yesterday to the ambassador of Switzerland, which manages US interests in Tehran, to be passed on to the Iranians.
The official, who asked not to be named, said a copy was also being conveyed to Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York.
The official did not confirm reports from Vienna that the US concessions were linked to agreement by previously reluctant Russia and China to consider UN sanctions against Iran if negotiations stalled.
But he said the approach outlined by Rice had “very strong support” from Russia and China as well as Britain and France, the other permanent members of the UN Security Council to meet in Vienna along with Germany.
The State Department official called Rice’s statement an “extension” of the current policy but stressed the landmark significance of the offer for direct contact with the Iranians.
Iran has offered to resume talks with the EU trio but insisted it will not abandon enrichment.