Thursday, June 01, 2006

NYT Rice Proposes Path to Talks With Iran on Nuclear Issue

May 31, 2006

Rice Proposes Path to Talks With Iran on Nuclear Issue


WASHINGTON, May 31 _ — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today that the United States would be willing to change course and join multinational talks with Iran over its nuclear program if it suspends all nuclear activities.

Ms. Rice said that the move was meant to "give new energy" to a European effort to develop a package of incentives or potential punishments to convince Iran to pull back from a nuclear program that it insists as peaceful but which the United States has argued is a cover for developing nuclear weapons.

Speaking at the State Department before flying to Vienna for a meeting with European diplomats, Ms. Rice said that the precondition for the multinational talks were for Iran to halt the uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities that it resumed following the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad last year.

Tehran would also have to allow a resumption of the voluntary surprise visits by nuclear inspectors that it cut off earlier this year.

Ms. Rice held out the eventual prospect of a "new relationship" involving contacts in trade, sports and education. But she stressed that the talks would not involve one-on-one meetings with Iran and was not part any broader negotiations. The United States has not had full diplomatic ties with Iran since the 1979 hostage crisis.

"This is not a grand bargain," she said. "What we're talking about here is an effort to enhance the chances for a successful negotiated solution."

Before any broader talks could take place, Ms. Rice said, Iran would have to change policies that Ms. Rice involved the support of terrorism in the Palestinian territories and actions undermining the stability of Iraq.

She said the United States offer could be seen as removing "the last excuse" Iran would have for not taking a European offer seriously. And she made clear that the United States was keeping a firm grasp on the prospect of a stick to balance out the new carrot.

If the talks did not lead to agreement, Ms. Rice said, the United States would then move to "increase the pressure" through Security Council sanctions, "or if necessary, with like-minded states outside of the Security Council."

In Washington, the White House spokesman, Tony Snow, told reporters that President Bush had called the leaders of Russia, France and Germany on Tuesday to brief them on the decision, "and they all signed off."

"There are going to be some changes," Mr. Snow said of the United States position.

The United States has not had direct contacts with Iran since the 1979 hostage crisis, and Mr. Snow stressed today that the new round would not involve one-on-one discussions. "That's not part of the deal," he said.

Mr. Snow said the initiative did not amount to a new approach. He said it was "a way of making what we're doing more robust."

Pressure has been building on the administration to accept some sort of contact, as American and Europeans have struggled in recent weeks to find an approach that would win agreement from Russia and China, which are wary of imposing sanctions. European officials have said that Iran is more likely to be persuaded by any security guarantees included in the package if the United States is involved in the negotiations.

When President Ahmadinejad sent President Bush a rambling and highly critical letter earlier this month, administration officials dismissed it as not worthy of a response. But American diplomats suggested last week that they giving the question of talks of some sort of serious consideration.

In another move to enlist Russian support for a Security Council resolution, the Bush administration has agreed to language ruling out the immediate threat of military force, American and European officials said Tuesday.

The American agreement has improved the chances that the Russians will go along with the resolution, European diplomats said.

The American goal is to get an agreement on a Security Council resolution this week, for possible approval in June.

Also being negotiated are a package of benefits in nuclear energy, economic activities and security to be offered Iran if it cooperates in ending its nuclear activities. The Europeans are to offer this package with American support, but the Bush administration has quietly expressed misgivings about some of its possible elements.

"I think that we could safely say at this point that we feel like we're in good shape heading into Vienna," Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman, said at a department briefing on Tuesday.

He added that Ms. Rice's top aide on the issue, R. Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, had worked with his counterparts over the weekend on various disagreements. "That list of open issues is being whittled down, being narrowed," Mr. McCormack said.

For months the United States has demanded that pressure on Iran must increase through passage of a Security Council resolution under Chapter VII of the United Nations charter. This chapter invokes the Council's power to demand compliance of member countries on certain matters and threaten punishment if they refuse.

Russia, fearing a replay of the events before the Iraq war in 2002 and 2003, has opposed any invocation of Chapter VII, on the ground that the United States might seize upon its approval as a justification for acting unilaterally to impose economic penalties or use military force against Iran.

To placate the Russians, the United States has agreed to invoke only Article 41 of Chapter VII, and not the whole chapter. Article 41 makes no reference to the possible use of force, and therefore offers the Russians a means to support it.

"We're splitting hairs, but it keeps the process going," said a United Nations diplomat familiar with the negotiations, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to discuss the talks.

European diplomats said they were not sure whether Russia would show up in Vienna with a commitment to vote yes or to abstain from voting on the Security Council resolution. But two diplomats said it appeared that Russia did not like being seen as isolated by the United States and Europe on the matter.

In addition, they said, Mr. Putin hopes to get the issue of a Security Council resolution resolved soon so that it does not spill into the meetings of the Group of 8 nations in Moscow in June and in St. Petersburg in July.

Russia is the current president of the Group of 8, a rotating position, and is hoping for successful summit talks in St. Petersburg with President Bush and other top world leaders.

Steven R. Weisman reported from Washington for this article and John O'Neil from New York. Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting from Washington.


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