- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2006


In a major policy shift, the United States said today it will join other nations in holding direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program if Tehran first agrees to stop disputed nuclear activities that the West fears could lead to a bomb.

“Our message to the Iranians is that one, you won’t have a weapon, and two, that you must verifiably suspend any programs, at which point we will come to the negotiating table to work on a way forward,” President Bush said in responding to a reporter’s question.

“I thought it was important for the United States to take the lead — along with our partners,” Mr. Bush said. “And that’s what you’re seeing. You’re seeing robust diplomacy. I believe this problem can be solved diplomatically and I’m going to give it every effort to do so.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at the State Department that the United States will come to the negotiating table as soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities. She said the United States was taking the move to underscore its commitment to a diplomatic solution and to enhance prospects for success.

Asked at a press conference whether the United States would be willing to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran, Miss Rice ruled out a “grand bargain” and cited major disagreements between the two countries on many issues. However, she said a negotiated solution to the nuclear dispute could “begin to change the relationship.”

“We urge Iran to make this choice for peace, to abandon its ambition for nuclear weapons,” she said. At the same time, Miss Rice acknowledged Iran has a right to civil nuclear energy.

The Swiss ambassador to the United States was called to the State Department earlier to receive a copy of Miss Rice’s remarks for transmission to Iran, U.S. officials said. The United States has had no diplomatic ties with Iran and few contacts at all with its government since Islamic radicals took over the U.S. Embassy in 1979 and held diplomats there for more than a year.

In Brussels, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana welcomed Miss Rice’s remarks. “Direct U.S. participation would be the strongest and most positive signal of our common wish to reach an agreement with Iran,” Mr. Solana added.

British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said European nations will offer Tehran “a serious and substantial” package to cooperate.

Miss Rice will meet with foreign ministers from the other permanent Security Council members tomorrow in Vienna, Austria, to finalize a package of incentives and threats to be presented to Tehran.

European diplomats said the package and the U.S. announcement of a willingness to talk were conditioned on pledges from Russia and China to eventually support tough actions such as sanctions if Iran continued to defy a U.N. call to stop its disputed activities.

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