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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

31 May 2006

United States Offers to Join European-Iranian Nuclear Talks

Secretary Rice says move underscores U.S. commitment to diplomatic solution

By David Shelby
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington --The United States has offered to join European-Iranian negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program provided that Iran first suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.

“[T]o 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 [Britain, France and Germany] and meet with Iran’s representatives,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in Washington May 31.

The offer marks a shift in policy for the Bush administration, which had previously rejected direct discussions with Tehran on anything but the Iraqi security situation.  Rice said, however, that the circumstances now justify Washington’s direct involvement in the negotiations.

“We have always been determined to do what we could to support the negotiations,” she said.  “We now believe that having created a strong climate of opinion … in which a great number of states are united around a clear concept of what Iran must do -- and that, by the way, includes a precondition of suspension for negotiations -- that the United States might be able now to add weight to the negotiating track by joining these discussions.”

Rice said that the move is not unlike the U.S. policy of engaging in multilateral discussions about North Korea’s nuclear program.  She also stressed that the U.S. offer in no way heralds broader diplomatic relations between the United States and Iran, but is simply intended to provide legitimacy to the negotiating process aimed at steering Iran away from its nuclear weapons ambitions.

“[I]t's an opportunity for Iran to make its intentions clear,” she said.  “If Iran really wants a negotiated solution, it can suspend its enrichment and enrichment-related activities, [as] it has been required to do in an [International Atomic Energy Agency] Board of Governors' resolution, and we can sit down at the table and talk about how to get to a civil nuclear program that is acceptable to the international community.”  (See related article.)

Iran has repeatedly claimed that its nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian nuclear energy purposes, but Rice said Tehran’s historic behavior has undermined the credibility of its claims with the international community.

“In view of its previous violations of its commitments and the secret nuclear program it undertook, the Iranian regime must persuasively demonstrate that it has permanently abandoned its quest for nuclear weapons,” she said.

At the same time that she proposed direct U.S. involvement in the nuclear negotiations, Rice said that the international community is presenting Iran with a clear choice between two courses of action.  She said a choice to continue pursuing nuclear weapons would “incur only great costs,” in the form of political and economic sanctions and international isolation. 

The secretary said if Iran chooses to suspend its enrichment activities, cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and return to negotiations, this “would lead to the real benefit and longer-term security of the Iranian people, the region, and the world as a whole.”

She said the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) and Germany would be offering a package of proposed benefits and penalties to Iran based on these two options.  Rice plans to be in Vienna June 1 to meet with her counterparts from those countries and finalize the details of the package.

She said that it is now up to Iran to choose its course of action and that the U.N. Security Council and the rest of the international community will respond accordingly.

“I think there is substantial agreement and understanding that Iran now faces a clear choice,” she said.  “This is the last excuse, in some sense.  There have been those who have said, ‘Well, if only the negotiations had the potential for the United States to be a part of them, perhaps then Iran would respond.’  So now we have a pretty clear path.  We have negotiations, if Iran is prepared to suspend.  If Iran is not prepared to suspend -- and by the way, this is the understanding that comes out of New York -- that there is another path.”

A transcript of Rice’s press conference on Iran is available on the State Department Web site.

For more information, see Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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