Rice: U.S. Will Talk to Iran if Enrichment Ends In a significant switch from its earlier hard-line position, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that the Bush administration would be open to multilateral talks with Iranian leaders -- but only if that nation gives up its plans to enrich uranium. Alex Chadwick speaks with Michele Kelemen about Rice's remarks.
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Rice: U.S. Will Talk to Iran if Enrichment Ends

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Rice: U.S. Will Talk to Iran if Enrichment Ends

Rice: U.S. Will Talk to Iran if Enrichment Ends

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Back with DAY TO DAY. The U.S. government appears to be shifting policy on Iran and nuclear talks. The U.S. now says it will negotiate directly with Tehran if the government there agrees to halt enrichment of uranium. Here's Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Secretary of State CONDOLEEZZA RICE: And now we hope that this offer, this proposal, that we would join the talks should Iran suspend, will help to create a climate for action - either in the negotiations or in the Security Council.

CHADWICK: And President Bush said today that this decision says the U.S. is going to take a leadership position in solving the issue of nuclear development in Iran. We're joined by NPR reporter Michele Kelemen at the State Department. Michele, what about the timing of this U.S. decision and announcement?

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

Well, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is about to go to Vienna, and she'll be meeting there with the members of the five U.N. Security Council states plus Germany, one of the European countries that's been negotiating with Iran. So, she's trying to gather some steam to put together this package.

A package of incentives and disincentives for Iran. And so, part of it would be that the U.S. is ready to negotiate with Iran in a multilateral format. So it would be with the EU3: Britain, France, Germany. But only if Iran agrees to suspend its enrichment of uranium.

CHADWICK: Is it the participation of these allies that is prompting this U.S. move?

KELEMEN: Well, the European diplomats for months now have really been saying that the only way negotiations are going to work is if the U.S. is more involved. And you'll remember that the Europeans announced earlier in the year that their talks with Iran had reached a dead end.

So, the only way to get Iran back to the table, they think, is that if the U.S. joins in, and if the U.S. gives up this idea of regime change and keeps the focus on the nuclear issue. Now, Rice wasn't talking about giving up regime change, she wasn't ruling out military options. She wasn't saying that this is a step toward relations with Iran or a grand bargain.

Mainly, she said this is just to give negotiations a chance. And she put it this way: she said this is really the last excuse, because a lot of people have been saying, well, the talks would work if only the U.S. would be a part of them.

CHADWICK: Well, here's the basic thing though, Michele. What about this condition, Tehran has to agree to stop uranium enrichment? Is that a realistic demand to make? Haven't they rejected calls for that?

KELEMEN: They've rejected the calls in the past from the Europeans, because this is a demand that the Europeans have made before the negotiations would resume again. And Iranians have insisted on this right to enrich uranium for what they say is a peaceful nuclear program. The idea of this offer is to say, well, Iran, we're going to give you some access to civil nuclear power without enrichment in Iran. That's the package that's being worked out in Vienna - how exactly to do that - and give Iran a chance to say is it serious about negotiations or not?

CHADWICK: And with the added incentive here, the U.S. will sign on to this, so that worry will go away.

KELEMEN: That's right. I mean, and the other side of it is what happens at the Security Council. The U.S. hasn't been able to get Russia and China, for instance, to agree on a tough Security Council resolution. So, this seems to be her way of getting this process, the diplomacy moving along.

CHADWICK: NPR's Michele Kelemen at the State Department. Michele, thank you.

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