ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
And I'm Melissa Block. The Bush administration has announced a policy shift on Iran. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says the U.S. is willing to sit at a negotiating table with European partners and Iran if Iran suspends parts of its nuclear program. In Tehran, the official Iranian agency dismissed the offer as a propaganda move. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: For weeks now, European diplomats, former U.S. officials, and even some Republicans on Capitol Hill have been urging President Bush to allow U.S. officials to talk with Iran about the nuclear issue. President Bush now says the U.S. would join multilateral negotiations if Iran stopped enriching uranium, which the U.S. fears could be used for a nuclear bomb.
GEORGE W: And our message to the Iranians is that one, you won't have a weapon. And two, that you must verifiably suspend any programs, at which point we will come to the negotiating table to work on a way forward.
KELEMEN: Secretary Rice is to meet in Vienna tomorrow with her European counterparts and with the foreign ministers of Russia and China, who have opposed U.S. efforts to get a tough U.N. Security Council resolution on Iran. She says she hopes the new U.S. approach will create a climate for action.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: This is the last excuse in some sense. There have been those who've said well, if only the negotiations had the potential for the United States to be a part of them. Perhaps then Iran would respond. So, now we have a pretty-clear path.
KELEMEN: That is to offer Iran a package of carrots and sticks to encourage Iran to get back to talks. Rice says diplomats hope to finalize the package in Vienna. She says Iran's enrichment activities have accelerated and can't go unchecked.
RICE: So, we now have an opportunity to either check their movement toward further sophistication of their nuclear program by negotiation, to which we would be a party. Or to check it by greater pressure on the Iranians through sanctions and other measures through the Security Council, and, if necessary, with like-minded states outside of the Security Council.
KELEMEN: Joseph Cirincione, a nonproliferation expert at the Center for American Progress, says it's not clear whether the U.S. is sincere about talking with Iran, or just wants to bring allies along for a tougher approach. Still, he sees today's announcement as a significant shift.
JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: Clearly, the United States has lost control of its Iran policy. Some saw it as contracting out to the Europeans, others saw it as just being ineffective. But the U.S. is trying to regain control and to, as the president said, to exercise some robust diplomacy.
KELEMEN: Cirincione doesn't think Iran will ever give up the right to enrich uranium for what it says is for peaceful purposes.
CIRINCIONE: I'm afraid that that horse may have left the barn. For years, I've been opposed to any deal that allowed the Iranians to do even minor enrichment experiments. But they've been establishing facts on the ground. They have these machines up and running. It may not be possible to shut them off completely, and that's going to be the real tough test.
KELEMEN: Cirincione predicts a long summer of diplomacy before it becomes clear whether the U.S. and Europe can actually negotiate a verifiable agreement with Iran, or whether all of this will lead to sanctions or even a military confrontation. The Bush administration won't rule that option out. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.