U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Tuesday urged Iran to prove its interest in better relations by accepting the big-power offer of incentives for Tehran to stop uranium enrichment. Rice was responding to interview remarks by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Iran wants to seek "common ground" with Washington on the nuclear issue. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
Rice is challenging the Iranian leader to back up what are seen as conciliatory remarks in his television interview by accepting the incentives offer and halting the enrichment drive the United States considers as weapons related.
Mr. Ahmadinejad, in an unusual interview with a U.S. media outlet, told the NBC broadcast network Monday that Iran and the United States should try to find "common ground" in their respective positions on the nuclear issue and work for an agreement.
Rice, who spoke at a joint press appearance with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, said Iran can show its good faith and intentions by accepting the enhanced incentives package submitted last month by the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and Germany, the P Five Plus One.
"There's one way for the Iranians to make clear that they have found common ground," said Condoleezza Rice. "It's to come and say we accept the proposal, this is a good basis for the beginnings of pre-negotiations within a six week period, and then we can suspend our enrichment and reprocessing, and we can begin real negotiations. And the United States will fundamentally be at the table."
In mid-June, the P Five Plus One offered to suspend U.N. sanctions and provide Iran civilian nuclear aid and various other benefits if it stopped enrichment and returned to negotiations over its nuclear program.
In the six-week pre-negotiation period cited by Rice, the major powers would refrain from adding new sanctions if Iran stopped adding to its enrichment capacity.
At a July 19 Geneva meeting, attended by third-ranking State Department official William Burns, Iran offered a policy paper that proposed several more rounds of talks with big-power ministers but was non-committal about halting enrichment.
European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana gave Iran two additional weeks to come up with a definitive response and Rice said here if the incentives side of the process is not working, Iran can expect tighter sanctions on its economy.
For his part, Foreign Minister Frattini said Italy firmly backs the two-track strategy:
"Iran making a nuclear bomb is simply not acceptable," said Franco Frattini. "This is the Italian position which is very firm. We believe in the double-track strategy: on one hand putting on the table a generous offer, on the other hand standing very firm in confirming that if Iran does not take seriously negotiations with Europe and the international community, we cannot accept to stay inactive, and we will have to implement in full."
In the NBC interview, Mr. Ahmadinejad again denied Iran is working to produce nuclear weapons, suggesting they are relics of the past century.
The two-week deadline set by Solana expires Saturday, though officials here said the major powers are prepared to wait an additional day or two for an official Iranian response.