Rice Says EU, Iran Holding Nuclear Talks

The Associated Press
Tuesday, September 19, 2006; 12:06 PM

NEW YORK -- 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.

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