U.S. to Join Future Talks on Iran

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 9, 2009

The United States said yesterday that it would directly participate "from now on" in international talks with Iran over its nuclear activities, the latest move in the Obama administration's promised diplomatic outreach to the Tehran government.

"There's nothing more important than trying to convince Iran to cease its efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon," Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. The United States, she said in brief comments at the State Department, would be a full participant with Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China in any future Iran negotiations.

The announcement, made in London after a meeting among the negotiating partners, broke with the Bush administration's policy of supporting talks between Iran and the others but not participating in them. Although President George W. Bush made an exception to the policy in July, allowing a senior U.S. diplomat to attend a meeting at which Iran was present, his administration later said that Iran was not serious and that the effort would not be repeated.

A senior administration official, who agreed to discuss the issue on the condition of anonymity after the London statement and Clinton's comments, said there was no internal debate over whether to fully join the negotiations if and when another round is scheduled. "It was kind of silly that we had to walk out of the room" when the Iranians were present, the official said.

Iran offered no immediate public response to the announcement. Its official statements since President Obama offered in his inaugural speech to "extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist" have vacillated between hard-line and moderate. In comments yesterday before the London statement, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad said his country would welcome direct engagement with the United States, providing Obama was "honest."

But Ahmedinejad also said he planned to announce "good nuclear news" to the nation Thursday, the Reuters news agency reported from Tehran, and some experts said he would claim progress in uranium enrichment. Iran has said that it seeks enrichment only to the level needed for energy production rather than what the West says is the much higher weapons-grade level.

The July round of talks was the last in the years-long effort by the negotiators to persuade Iran to give up what the West says -- and Iran denies -- is a nuclear weapons development program. Last fall, the Bush administration failed to persuade the U.N. Security Council to support a fourth round of international sanctions against Iran. Russia, in particular, resisted.

Obama has said he seeks diplomatic rapprochement with Iran on a range of issues. U.S. special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke met briefly with Iran's deputy foreign minister at an international conference on Afghanistan last month, and the administration earlier sent a lower-level official to a separate meeting on Afghanistan in Moscow.

Obama issued a video message on March 19 to the government and people of the "Islamic Republic of Iran" to mark Nowruz, the Persian new year. He acknowledged strained relations but spoke of "the common humanity that joins us together."

Seeking cooperation from Moscow, Obama has told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that if Iran can be dissuaded from pursuing nuclear weapons, it would lessen the need for a Europe-based U.S. missile defense system that Russia opposes.

Although officials have said there are no immediate plans to seek additional U.N. sanctions against Iran, they have left the door open to unilateral economic sanctions, including expanding U.S. restrictions on Iran's international banking activities.

After their meeting in London, senior diplomats, including William J. Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, said they have told Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief who has also been involved in the talks, "to extend an invitation to the Iranian Government to meet representatives of the E3+3, so that together we may find a diplomatic solution to this critical issue." The "E3+3" is the original negotiating group of Britain, France and Germany, plus the United States, Russia and China.

"The other members of the group warmly welcome the new direction of US policy towards Iran and their decision to participate fully in the E3+3 process and join in any future meetings with representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran," the statement said.

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