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U.S. Urges Iran To Halt Nuclear Program, Resume Negotiations

Washington – The United States is prepared to enter into diplomatic discussions with Iran for the first time since the 1979 hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran if Iran verifiably suspends its uranium enrichment activities.

“We have said that if Iran is prepared to suspend [uranium enrichment], we are prepared for the first time in decades to sit down across the table from the Iranians and talk about ending their nuclear ambitions and providing a path for Iran's entry into the international system,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a media interview in New York September 19.  “I would meet anywhere with my counterpart at any time once Iran has suspended its enrichment and reprocessing activities.”

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns underscored the importance of this historic offer during September 19 testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington.

“No prior administration, Republican or Democrat, had made that offer in 27 years,” he said.  “We're willing to do it on the nuclear issue because we see the nuclear issue as uniquely dangerous to our country and to our allies in the Middle East.”

Burns invoked a baseball metaphor to explain to the senators that discussions between Iran and the international community have moved into “extra innings” [the procedure used to break a tie] since the August 31 expiration of the U.N. Security Council’s deadline for Iran to halt its nuclear program.  He said he expects Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, to attend the proceedings of the U.N. General Assembly in New York this week and meet with European leaders who are trying to convince Iran to pursue the path of negotiations.

“So the Iranians have a clear choice to make.  That choice is in New York this week,” he said.  “And we very much hope that Iran will make the right choice so that negotiations can proceed and diplomacy can proceed.”

“But should that not be the case -- and since we're in extra innings, we can't wait forever, and there's a very short time line here -- then President Bush and Secretary Rice as recently as this morning said publicly that we will seek to impose a sanctions regime on the Iranian government,” he said.

The Security Council adopted Resolution 1696 on July 31 demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment by August 31 or face the possibility of economic and diplomatic sanctions.  Burns said that the resolution commits those governments that voted for it “to a course of sanctions under Article 41, Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, should Iran not meet this basic condition. … And so we assume and we believe that all the governments that voted for that resolution back on July 31 will honor it.”  He said that moving ahead with a sanctions resolution at this time is a matter of credibility for the Security Council.

Burns explained that the sanctions would be graduated with the first phase focusing on the Iranian leadership and on dual-use exports that Iran might use to advance its nuclear program.  “We believe we have unity among the Perm Five countries and Germany to do this.  And as recently as yesterday afternoon, that unity was in place,” he said.  The “Perm Five” countries, the five permanent members of the Security Council, are China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.  Germany also has been deeply engaged in discussions about the Iranian nuclear program.

Burns said that the coalition of countries dealing with Iran is operating from diverse positions but remains unified on the key issues.  “It's a coalition of countries with sometimes different interests.  I can't say that Russia and China see the Iranian nuclear issue exactly as we do, but we held together at the key junctures over the last 12 months,” he said.

French President Jacques Chirac also put to rest speculations that France was diverging from other members of the coalition after a September 19 meeting with U.S. President George Bush.  Both leaders underscored that they share the same objective and same approach in dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  Bush said European countries would remain engaged with Iran to convince it to suspend its nuclear program and return to negotiations, but he said if Iran continues to stall, the coalition of countries engaged in the matter would move ahead with sanctions.

Clarifying his position, Chirac suggested that the suspension of Iran’s enrichment program and a suspension of action within the Security Council should be simultaneous measures preceding a resumption of negotiations.

Burns said that the United States already has begun taking measures to isolate Iran economically.

“We are working with the financial community worldwide to impress upon them the cost of doing business with Iran,” he said.  “And we're making the case that Iran is not a good risk for further investment in any field, and we're beginning to see banks decide that they will not continue with new lending to Iran, and some European and Asian banks actually curtailing their operations quite significantly.”

He said there is a good chance that economic sanctions could convince Iran to change its course of action because Iran is deeply involved in international trade and seeks integration into the world economy.

He also spoke about the dynamic complexity of political currents within Iran and speculated that there are moderates who might be more inclined to work with the international community than to defy it.

“This is a country undergoing a vast transformation in the way that it views itself,” he said.  “What we hope will emerge is an Iranian government that realizes that a policy of the type espoused by Ahmadi-Nejad -- of aggressive behavior in the region which has a lot of the Arab countries very concerned, a clear effort to create a nuclear weapons capability, and a clear effort to continue the funding of terrorist groups -- that's going to create a vast international coalition against Iran.”

Transcripts of Rice’s interviews with ABC television, NBC television and CBS television are available on the State Department Web site.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

... Payvand News - 9/20/06 ... --

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