US offers talks with Iran as ministers gather
01 June 2006, VIENNA/WASHINGTON - Foreign ministers gathering in Vienna Thursday to discuss Iran's nuclear crisis have a new proposal on their plates - the US offer to sit at the table with Tehran in multilateral talks if it "verifiably" suspends uranium enrichment. After more than a quarter-century of frozen diplomatic relations with Iran, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated Wednesday that the offer was a last-ditch measure to give "the negotiating track new energy" - and to see if Iran does
01 June 2006
VIENNA/WASHINGTON - Foreign ministers gathering in Vienna Thursday to discuss Iran's nuclear crisis have a new proposal on their plates - the US offer to sit at the table with Tehran in multilateral talks if it "verifiably" suspends uranium enrichment.
After more than a quarter-century of frozen diplomatic relations with Iran, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated Wednesday that the offer was a last-ditch measure to give "the negotiating track new energy" - and to see if Iran does "intend to come into the international consensus about this."
Rice outlined a scenario of talking to Iran along with France, Britain and Germany, the so-called EU-3 involved in years of efforts to get Iran to stand down on its nuclear ambitions.
Rice will meet in Vienna with foreign ministers from China, Russia, France and Britain - the other veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council - and Germany.
In first reactions out of Iran, an Iranian parliamentary spokesman dismissed the offer, saying suspension of enrichment is "not on the agenda of the Iranian government" and was an unacceptable condition.
The German and Dutch foreign ministers hailed the offer as a historic gesture and urged Tehran not to miss the chance to defuse the crisis. In Brussels, the proposal was welcomed by the European Union's chief diplomat Javier Solana as a "most positive signal of our common wish to reach an agreement with Iran."
The head of the UN nuclear oversight agency in Vienna, Mohamed ElBaradei, strongly urged Iran to accept the US offer and suspend uranium enrichment, noting that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has long demanded the suspension.
The offer to sit face-to-face with Iranian representatives at a table was a major US foreign-policy shift. Washington suspended diplomatic relations with Iran over the 1979 seizure of the US embassy and hostages by Iranian militants.
Rice emphasized that the overture did not represent a grand bargain or opportunity to normalize relations "or let bygones be bygones."
"We are not in a position to talk about full diplomatic relations with a state with which we have so many fundamental differences," Rice said.
"But the Iranians can, by seriously negotiating about their nuclear programme and seriously coming to a civil nuclear programme that is acceptable to the international community, begin to change the relationship that it has with the international community (and) the United States."
Just two weeks ago, the Bush administration ended more than 25 years of diplomatic isolation for Libya after the one-time pariah state renounced weapons of mass destruction and came clean on its involvement in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Iran appears to be betting that China and Russia, two veto-holding members of the UN Security Council who are involved in its energy sector, will not back strong economic or military sanctions in a Security Council resolution.
Rice sidestepped questions about whether the two powers have agreed to change their minds if Iran rejects the US overture.
China and Russia have balked at any Security Council measure that implicitly threatens the use of force against Iran, pitting them against Britain, France and the United States.
As a concession, the US may be willing to scrap the threat of the use of force in the UN resolution under debate, The New York Times reported Wednesday, citing American and European diplomats.
Rice deflected such questions and emphasized US cooperation with the EU-3, and said "if necessary," the US would pursue sanctions and other measures "with like-minded states outside of the Security Council."
US President George W. Bush emphasized that the US was making "every effort ... to get this solved diplomatically."
In broadcast remarks during a meeting at the White House, Bush said he hopes the Iranian government "listens to international demands and doesn't ... foolishly spend money on a weapons programme that takes away capacity for Iran's economy to grow."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly refused to suspend uranium enrichment, an accomplishment he trumpeted earlier this year amid great public fanfare - and in defiance of IAEA demands to allow inspections and of deadlines set by the UN Security Council.
But in Tehran on Thursday, Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki told the Khabar news network that Iran would reject any talks with the United States with preconditions, Khabar news network reported.
"We welcome negotiations upon equal conditions but will not make any concessions on our legitimate rights (in pursuing nuclear technology," Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki told Khabar.
"The remarks by (US Secretary of State Condoleezza) Rice did not contain anything new and especially nothing which would lead to a logical settlement (of the nuclear dispute)," Mottaki added.
Uranium enrichment can produce weapons-grade material necessary for nuclear weapons. Tehran has denied it has such ambitions, but Rice repeated long-standing charges that this is Iran's intent.
"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.
France, Britain and Germany are working on a package of trade and technical incentives for Iran, including an offer to transfer civilian nuclear technology to Tehran.
If Iran agrees to the US proposal, Rice said "we can sit down and talk about a civil nuclear programme that is acceptable to the international community."
Subject: German News