The State Department announced on Monday that it will send its third-ranking diplomat, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, to an October 1 Big Power meeting with Iran over its nuclear program. U.S. officials say the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and Germany will present a "united front" against Iran's alleged nuclear weapons ambitions.
The October meeting, at a still-to-be announced venue in Europe, will be a rare opportunity for face-to-face U.S. diplomatic contact with Iran. Officials here say the under secretary will deliver a message from the Obama administration that "the clock is running down" for Iran to be responsive to concerns about its nuclear intentions.
The European Union's chief diplomat, Javier Solana, arranged the meeting with Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, after Tehran said last week it had accepted an offer for talks with the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and Germany - the P5+1.
Last April, the Big Power grouping renewed an offer of economic and political incentives for Iran to end a uranium enrichment program that U.S. and European officials believe is weapons-related and return to negotiations over its nuclear activities.
While accepting the proposal for talks, Tehran insists that it will not entertain the idea of stopping the enrichment drive, which it contends is part of a civilian power program and to which it is entitled under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly said that despite Iran's comments, the six powers will have the nuclear issue at the top of their agenda and present a "united front" against any plans by Iran for the militarization of its nuclear program. He said that U.S. patience on the issue is limited.
"We have not had the opportunity to get an official response from the Iranians on our offer that we made back in April," said Ian Kelly. "So this is why I say we want to take this opportunity to hear from them face-to-face, directly across the table what their choice is, in terms of which path they're going to pursue."
Kelly said the choice for Iran is further isolation, if it refuses to be responsive to concerns about its nuclear intentions, or cooperation and integration with the world community.
The Obama administration has threatened new sanctions against Iran if it does not alter its nuclear course. But Russia, a veto-wielding member of the U.N. Security Council, last week all but ruled out additional punitive measures in the United Nations framework.
The State Department said last week that it wanted the Big Power meeting with Iran to occur before world leaders convene in New York next week for the new U.N. General Assembly. But a senior official here insisted on Monday that delaying the meeting until October 1 was not a setback.
Under Secretary Burns will take part in the October 1st meeting in line with an Obama administration decision early this year to join in P5+1 meetings with Iran, despite a 30-year absence of diplomatic relations.
The U.S. diplomat, a holdover in the post from the Bush administration, also took part in a P5+1 meeting with Iran in July of last year, but it was described then as a "one time only" gesture.