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February 02, 2013

Biden Tells Iran to Get Serious about Talks

by Al Pessin

U.S. Vice president Joe Biden says the four-year-old offer of direct negotiations with Iran is still valid, if the country's top leader is ready for serious talks that are not held in secret. He also called on Iran to take a good faith approach in negotiations with the international contact group known as the P5+1.   Biden spoke at a security conference in Germany.

Vice president Biden told the gathering of senior officials from around the world the United States is still ready for direct talks with Iran.

“That offer stands, but it must be real and tangible and there has to be an agenda that they are prepared to speak to," he said. "We are not just prepared to do it for the exercise.”

Biden said the United States will not hold such talks without informing its allies.

The vice president also called on Iran to take a more constructive approach in its talks with the international contact group of the five permanent United Nations Security Council members and Germany.

“There is still time, there is still space for diplomacy, backed by pressure, to succeed," he said. "The ball is in the government of Iran's court. And it's well past time for Tehran to adopt a serious, good faith approach to negotiations with the P5+1.”

Biden also pledged continuing U.S. support for Syria's opposition, and said President Bashar al-Assad is “no longer fit” to lead his country, and "he must go."

At the same conference session, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said such a condition is not acceptable, and said the agreed-upon Geneva process for Syria must be followed, including talks among all parties. He also rejected a suggestion from an audience member for the creation of a humanitarian corridor in Syria, enforced by international air power.

“On the humanitarian corridors with close air support, no," he said. "Any use of force, any threat of the use of force will be unacceptable because the situation on the ground requires not more military assets but immediate cease-fire and immediate end of violence.”

Lavrov indicated Russia is concerned that any United Nations authorization for military operations in Syria, even for humanitarian purposes, will result in wider involvement, which is what Russia believes happened with the U.N. Security Council resolution on Libya.

He also said Russia would not accept any use of chemical weapons in Syria. But Lavrov said he is confident the country's chemical weapons are safe in the hands of the Assad government, and that the only danger of their use is if they come into the possession of opposition forces.

Western nations and Israel are concerned that the weapons could either be used by the Assad forces or given to Hezbollah in Lebanon. This week, Israel bombed what it said was a chemical weapons convoy preparing to head for Lebanon, but Syria denies the claim.

The security conference in Munich is an annual high-level event. Vice president Biden used it to renew U.S. support for its European allies, and to try to reassure them that the increased American interest in relations with Asia is not a threat to Europe, and indeed will be good for the continent. He expressed confidence that the United States and China can compete economically and disagree on some issues without becoming enemies.

He also said that in the State of the Union speech next week, President Barack Obama will outline U.S. foreign policy priorities, including nonproliferation, fighting climate change, enhanced development initiatives, efforts to reduce trade barriers, support for democracies around the world and a push for peace in the Middle East.