AP: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her counterparts from Australia and Japan urged Iran on Saturday to suspend all uranium enrichment activities and resume negotiations over its disputed nuclear program.
By ANNE GEARAN
AP Diplomatic Writer
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her counterparts from Australia and Japan urged Iran on Saturday to suspend all uranium enrichment activities and resume negotiations over its disputed nuclear program.
“We have grave concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and discussed the need for concerted action at the U.N. Security Council to convince Iran to promptly suspend all enrichment related activities, fully cooperate with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), return to negotiations and take all steps called for by the IAEA board,” Rice, Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said in a joint statement released after three-way security talks.
Iran offered Thursday to enter into talks with the United States aimed at stabilizing Iraq. But White House national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley said Friday that Iran’s offer is probably a ploy designed to “divert pressure and divert attention” from international concern that Tehran wants a nuclear bomb.
The United States has accused Iran of using a civilian nuclear program as a cover to build atomic weapons, an allegation Tehran denies. The U.N. Security Council is expected to discuss Iran’s nuclear program this month, with Washington pressing for penalties.
In a joint statement released after their talks, Rice, Downer and Aso also called on North Korea to unconditionally and immediately return to six-party nuclear talks.
North Korea has stayed away from negotiations over its nuclear program since November, demanding that Washington lift financial restrictions imposed on a Macau bank and North Korean companies for alleged complicity in counterfeiting and money laundering.
The six-party talks, involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, had appeared to reach a breakthrough in September when the secretive regime agreed to give up its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees. No progress has since been made on implementing the agreement, however.
The talks held Saturday by Rice and the Japanese and Australian ministers also explored China’s rapid economic and military expansion.
Prior to leaving Washington last week, Rice said the three countries must ensure that a buildup in China’s military spending was “not outsized for China’s regional ambitions and interests” – sparking concern that the United States would pursue a policy of containment.
Downer sought to downplay such concerns when he addressed reporters following the talks.
“It is not for China to think we are ganging up on China or that Australia is suddenly changing its policy on China,” he said. “We certainly don’t have a policy of … containment.”
The joint statement made scant reference to China, merely welcoming the country’s “constructive engagement in the region.”
Rice prodded Japan and China on Friday to improve relations recently strained by security and territorial disputes.
“We have encouraged good relations between China and Japan and even though there are difficulties in that relationship, China and Japan also share a lot of interests,” including extensive economic ties, she said.
Japanese leaders are nervous about China’s military expansion, planned for more than 14 percent next year. In Beijing on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang insisted that China is open about its military spending.
In their statement Saturday, Rice, Downer and Aso agreed to meet regularly to discuss regional security issues.
Associated Press Writer Mike Corder contributed to this report.