Diplomatic efforts aimed at persuading Iran to abandon its efforts to enrich uranium have been stepped up with an offer of direct talks with the United States.
The measures, announced by US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice, would see incentives for the Tehran government, including nuclear technology, but come with the precondition that enrichment activities are suspended. Said Rice: “as soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table.”
The move marks a major policy shift from the US with the first such attempts at a direct dialogue between the two since the Iranian hostage crisis of the late 1970s when American diplomats were kidnapped in Tehran, effectively ending diplomatic relations between the two.
However, while Iran has indicated that it is prepared to enter into talks with Washington it is unwilling to go further and suspend enrichment. Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki summed up the position saying: “We will not give up our nation's natural right [to enrichment], we will not hold talks over it. But we are ready to hold talks over mutual concerns.”
Nonetheless, despite the hard-line rhetoric from Iran, including comments from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warning that oil supplies from the Gulf could be disrupted if the US makes the “wrong move” over the issue, some analysts consider the Iranian’s position is aimed at bolstering the negotiating platform given the potential incentives such as Light Water Reactor technology and an assured supply of fuel. Certainly, comments from Mottaki leave open the door to negotiation rather than an outright rejection of US overtures.
This comes as the US and its European allies France, Germany and the UK are understood to have secured agreement from UN Security Council permanent members China and Russia to impose sanctions should Iran remain intransigent. Sanctions could include visa bans for Iranian and a freeze on assets, going as far as trade measures. Rice further suggested that military action remains an option.
International Atomic Energy Agency director general Mohamed ElBaradei welcomed the US moves and encouraged Iran to “create the conditions necessary for the resumption of these talks, with U.S. participation, with a view to achieving a comprehensive settlement that is acceptable to both the international community and Iran.”
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