By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 12, 2009
The United States has decided to ignore Iran's refusal to discuss its nuclear program and instead accept a vague Iranian plan for talks on security issues as the opening gambit to draw Tehran into real negotiation.
The effort to "test" Iran's intentions, announced Friday, came after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said his country is skeptical of the need for new sanctions on Iran, giving the Americans little choice but to treat seriously Iran's latest offer.
Iran this week ruled out talks on its nuclear program, instead offering a five-page plan that it said would lay the groundwork for peace and stability in the region. The document, first posted Thursday on the Web site of ProPublica news service, made no reference to international demands that Iran suspend its efforts to enrich uranium, but it did mention ending proliferation of nuclear weapons as well as a broad offer of dialogue.
Iran's plan was disappointing but not surprising to U.S. officials, who nonetheless decided to take at face value the offer of a dialogue. Iran has insisted that the intent of its program is peaceful, but enriching uranium can be an element in building a nuclear weapon -- though Tehran has not yet demonstrated it can enrich to a weapons-grade level.
"There's language in the letter that simply says the government of Iran is willing to enter into dialogue," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. "We are going to test that proposition, okay? And if Iran is willing to enter into serious negotiations, then they will find a willing participant in the United States and the other [partner] countries. If Iran dissembles in the future, as it has in the past, then we will draw conclusions from that."
Crowley stressed that the United States wants "serious engagement" on Iran's nuclear activities and that officials would raise the issue at any meeting, despite its absence from the Iranian proposal.
The other countries negotiating with Iran make up an unwieldy and often divided coalition. It includes Russia and China -- skeptics of new sanctions -- and the United Kingdom, France and Germany, which tend to support the U.S. position but continue to trade with Iran. Putin, according to his spokesman, told a group of foreign policy experts that sanctions "won't bring the desired effect" and that military action "would hurt the entire region," but that Iran needs to answer international concerns about its nuclear program.
Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, who has been designated the chief negotiator with the Iranians for the six powers, said in a written statement that he is seeking a meeting with Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili "at the earliest possible opportunity."