Reuters: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday the United States would not soften its refusal to negotiate directly with Iran until Tehran gave up its nuclear program.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday the United States would not soften its refusal to negotiate directly with Iran until Tehran gave up its nuclear program.
In a change of policy, a senior State Department official, William Burns will attend nuclear talks in Geneva along with other major powers to hear Iran's response to an incentives package offered last month. Previously, the United States did not participate in such meetings with Iran.
Burns also indicated to Congress last week the United States is looking into opening an interest section in Tehran, a diplomatic presence that falls short of an embassy but would put U.S. diplomats on Iranian soil for the first time since ties were cut off more than a quarter century ago.
Rice said Burns would deliver a clear message: Washington would only enter full-blown negotiations with if Iran stopped trying to develop an atomic weapon. Tehran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
"That remains the U.S. position and it will continue to be the U.S. position," Rice said at a news conference.
While Iran was a "difficult and dangerous state," Rice said she believed any country could change course.
In 2002, U.S. President George W. Bush branded Iran as part of an "axis of evil" but Rice said, "The United States does not have any permanent enemies."
"The signal that we are sending, that we fully support the track that Iran could take for a better relationship with the international community, is one that the United States stands fully behind." she said.
Oil markets have been roiled in recent months by talk of possible U.S. or Israeli military action against Iran because of its nuclear program.
Asked whether the decision to send Burns was inspired by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama's call for Washington to speak directly with Iran, Rice avoided answering the question directly.
(Reporting by Sue Pleming, editing by Alan Elsner)