U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that the United States would open talks with Iran if Tehran suspended its nuclear enrichment and reprocessing activities.
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Thanks for being with us. This is a major turnaround for the United States. Why is the administration doing this now?
Well, the United States has been very clear that it wanted to support these negotiations for more than a year. And, in fact, we made some moves several months ago to say that we would allow the Iranians to apply for WTO membership, that we would be prepared to give some spare aircraft parts, because we wanted to support the negotiations, so the president has wanted to do that.
This is simply another way, a more effective way, we believe now of supporting the negotiations at a different phase, a time when Iran has been moving steadily along with its nuclear program, when by the end of the year the Iranians talk about being at industrial-scale production of centrifuges.
And I think it's important that we know whether or not there is truly a negotiating option or not. It's time to give the Iranians a clear choice: If they're prepared to negotiate, then the world should be prepared to negotiate. We should be prepared to negotiate.
But if they're not, then we need to get on with the kinds of penalties that can be brought through the Security Council so that we can bring enough pressure on the Iranian regime to make it make a different choice.
How persuasive were America's allies, Kofi Annan, all of whom have been urging you all, both privately and increasingly publicly, to get involved in these talks?
Well, we've been thinking for some time — the president and I have been talking about what we could do to get the negotiations moving forward if, in fact, negotiations are going to move forward. And this was a logical next step.
We have been as supportive of these negotiations as we could without being at the table. We've been in the very closest coordination and contact with our allies; not much has gone on in these negotiations that we didn't know about and weren't involved with, but it seemed like the logical next step.
And what we did not want to do is to break apart what has been a very careful effort to make this a multilateral approach, with bilateral talks with the Iranians, or so-called direct talks.
We believe that joining the multilateral forum makes a good deal of sense, but we don't want Iran to make this an issue between the United States and Iran. This is an issue between Iran and the international community.