Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she supports European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana in his nuclear talks with Iran, though asserting that the process is not open-ended. Solana met Wednesday in Berlin with Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani in talks due to continue Thursday. European diplomats have framed the Solana-Larijani dialogue as a final opportunity for Iran to return to negotiations over its nuclear program and stave off sanctions.
Secretary Rice is making clear U.S. support for the initiative, while signaling also that the Bush administration's patience with the negotiating process has limits.
Rice told reporters at the start of a meeting with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis that she had talked to Solana earlier in the day before his talks with Larijani.
With cameras snapping at the photo opportunity, Rice said she wished Solana well but also suggested the nuclear talks with Iran are at a decision point and cannot go on very much longer: "Obviously if we can come out of this with an Iranian decision to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities completely and verifiably, then we would be on a course of negotiations and that's the course that we would all like to pursue. But of course the logic of Resolution 1696 is that the Security Council has also set up a route, a pathway toward action under Article 41, Chapter Seven (of the U.N. Charter)," she said.
The resolution cited by Rice, approved in late July, gave Iran until August 31st to suspend uranium enrichment and return to negotiations over its nuclear program or face U.N. sanctions.
Rice and her counterparts from the other permanent U.N. Security Council member countries agreed in New York last week to push back the effective deadline until the first week in October to give the negotiating process more time.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has continued to insist that Tehran will not give up what he says is its right to enrich uranium. But a senior U.S. official told reporters here the Iranian leadership is not monolithic and that Larijani appeared to be sincere in the talks with Solana.
Earlier, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said there could be an opening for a positive answer from the Iranians if they are given, in his words "a little time and space."
Iran has been offered incentives by the major powers to halt uranium enrichment and other sensitive nuclear activities believed weapons-related, and return to negotiations.
U.S. officials envisage increasingly severe sanctions against Tehran beginning with curbs on technology imports, if it continues to defy the U.N. resolution.
However, some Security Council members, notably Russia and China, have resisted an early move to sanctions.
Wednesday's Solana-Larijani meeting lasted five hours and was described by an E.U. spokeswoman as very intense. They are to continue the discussion in the German capital Thursday morning.