In a major policy shift, the United States said Wednesday it is prepared to join other nations in holding direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program if Iran first agrees to stop disputed nuclear activities that the West fears could lead to a bomb.
"I believe that it's important that we solve this issue diplomatically and my decision today says that the United States is going to take a leadership position in solving this issue," US President George W. Bush said Wednesday in responding to a reporter's question.
Bush said he thought it was important for the United States to take a lead role in the diplomacy. "I believe this problem can be solved diplomatically and I'm going to give it every effort to do so," Bush said.
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 news conference whether the United States would be willing to re-establish diplomatic relations with Iran, Rice ruled out a "grand bargain" and cited major disagreements between the two countries on many issues. However, Rice 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, Rice acknowledged Iran has a right to civil nuclear energy.
The Swiss ambassador to the United States was called to the State Department earlier Wednesday to receive a copy of Rice's remarks for transmission to Iran, US 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 US Embassy in 1979 and held diplomats there for more than a year.
In Brussels, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana welcomed Rice's remarks. "Direct US participation would be the strongest and most positive signal of our common wish to reach an agreement with Iran," Solana added.
(China Daily June 1, 2006)