- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

1:28 p.m.

VIENNA, Va. — The United States and international partners are close to a deal that would offer Iran economic incentives if it gives up nuclear activities that could produce a bomb, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says.

Miss Rice was meeting today with foreign ministers from the European nations that led stalled talks with Iran last year and would help present any new deal.

Also present were representatives from Russia and China, whose support is crucial if the package of incentives is to be accompanied by a credible threat of U.N. sanctions or other punishment if Iran fails to comply.

The White House said President Bush discussed Iran by phone today with Chinese President Hu Jintao but gave no details of the conversation. Mr. Bush discussed Iran with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, ahead of a surprise announcement yesterday that the United States is now willing to join the European talks if Iran suspends suspect activities and returns to the table.

Iran’s foreign minister welcomed the idea of direct talks but rebuffed the U.S. condition that Tehran first must suspend uranium enrichment.

“Iran welcomes dialogue under just conditions but won’t give up our rights,” the state-run Iranian television quoted Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki as saying today.

The shift in U.S. tactics was meant to offer the Iranians a last chance to avoid punishing sanctions. “We hope that in the coming days the Iranian government will thoroughly consider this proposal,” Miss Rice said before leaving Washington for Vienna.

Mr. Mottaki’s statement, issued at about the time Miss Rice was arriving in Austria, was the country’s first direct reaction to the U.S. offer.

“We won’t negotiate about the Iranian nation’s natural nuclear rights, but we are prepared, within a defined, just framework and without any discrimination, to hold dialogue about common concerns,” he said.

The package outlined yesterday by Miss Rice would be on the table for any new talks including the United States. Previous talks among Iran, Britain, France and Germany foundered last year.

Related article:

U.S. offers to talk to Iran

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