AP: President Bush exhorted Iran to “come to the table” to discuss its nuclear weapons program while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the world will have a credibility problem if it doesn’t confront Tehran. Associated Press
By ANNE GEARAN
AP Diplomatic Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – President Bush exhorted Iran to “come to the table” to discuss its nuclear weapons program while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the world will have a credibility problem if it doesn’t confront Tehran.
Discussing the situation amid heightened activity Tuesday at the United Nations, Rice acknowledged that talks are already under way between the European Union and Tehran without preconditions.
That is a concession for the United States, which has led a drive to force Iran to choose between looming U.N. sanctions or talks that could reward it for scaling back its nuclear program.
“Those talks are going on now,” Rice said on the CBS “Early Show,” referring to discussions between the European Union’s foreign policy chief and Iran’s nuclear negotiator. “But we are still pursuing the path of sanctions should Iran not follow the U.N. Security Council resolution” demanding a temporary end to its uranium enrichment program by Aug. 31.
Interviewed on morning news on the day Bush was addressing the United Nations, Rice stressed that the United States will not join any negotiations until Iran has at least temporarily stopped its accelerated uranium program.
Two members of the coalition, France and Russia, cast doubt on the idea of sanctions over the past week, and Rice and her aides have been lowering expectations for action during this week’s U.N. opening session.
French President Jacques Chirac proposed a compromise on Monday. The world would suspend the threat of sanctions if Tehran agreed to halt uranium enrichment and return to negotiations.
After a meeting with Bush on Tuesday, however, Chirac said twice that the two leaders see “eye to eye” on Iran. Bush said he and Chirac “share the same objective and we’re going to continue to strategize together.”
“Time is of the essence,” Bush said. “Now is the time for the Iranians to come to the table.”
Enriched uranium can be used to make nuclear energy, as Iran claims it wants to do. It can also fuel nuclear weapons, as the United States claims Iran intends.
If the separate European-Iranian talks “can get us to a suspension, that would be terrific,” Rice said on CBS.
“But the international community also has a credibility issue,” she added, because Iran missed last month’s deadline to suspend enrichment or risk sanctions. “We are talking with our partners about that course as well,” Rice said.
Any face-to-face discussions between Iran and the United States would be the most significant warming of relations in nearly three decades of estrangement.
“We have said that if Iran is prepared to suspend that, we’re 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,” Rice said on ABC’s Good Morning America.
“I would meet anywhere with my counterpart at any time,” once Iran has met that precondition, she said.
The United States has had extensive unilateral economic sanctions against Iran since shortly after the 1979 revolution and the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
Although the U.S. remains Iran’s main adversary because of America’s military, political, cultural and economic dominance, Washington has little economic leverage against Tehran on its own. The U.S. needs Europe, at least, to impose any meaningful economic penalty on Iran, but tough sanctions on the oil exporter would hurt America’s international partners as well as Iran.
The prospect of U.S.-Iran talks was meant to be a powerful lure for Iran, but Rice also dangled the offer of talks earlier this year as a means to shore up a shaky international coalition against Iran.
It worked, at least for awhile. This summer, world powers signed on to the principle that Iran would face at least mild initial sanctions if it blew the August deadline.
Now that the deadline is passed without concession from Iran, the nations that offered the deal for talks or consequences are meeting Tuesday night on the sidelines of the U.N. meeting.
In Washington, meanwhile, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said there was “unity” on the Security Council to impose sanctions on Iran that would deny the country so-called dual-use technology – equipment that could be used in a military program.
“Its leadership is continuing along a path of confrontation,” Burns told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.