Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she hopes Saturday's critical
meeting with Iran's nuclear negotiator in Geneva will mark a change of
course for Tehran in its nuclear dispute with the international
community. Rice is sending a senior envoy to take part in the talks.
VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
The dispatch of Undersecretary of State William Burns to the Geneva meeting is a policy shift for the Bush administration, which had shunned direct contacts with Tehran on the nuclear issue in the absence of an Iranian commitment to stop uranium enrichment.
At a State Department news conference with Kosovo political leaders, Rice said she hopes the U.S. gesture will encourage Iran to accept international incentives and halt its pursuit of technology that could lead to a nuclear weapon:
"We have been very clear that any country can change course," Rice said. "The United States doesn't have any permanent enemies, and we hope that the signal that we're sending that we fully support the track that Iran could take for a better relationship with the international community is one that the United States stands fully behind. We will see what happens on Saturday but that is the message that Bill Burns will be delivering."
Burns, the third-ranking State department official, will join European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana and diplomats from the other permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and Germany, the P-Five-Plus-One, in the meeting with Iranian envoy Saeed Jalili.
Iran is expected to give its reply to an enhanced package of incentives offered by the P-Five-Plus-One in June to try to persuade Tehran to stop its enrichment drive and return to negotiations over its nuclear program.
A suspension of enrichment would mean a suspension of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran. Solana has also proposed a six-week period of so-called "pre-negotiations" in which there would be no new sanctions added if Iran stopped adding to its enrichment capacity.
In her comments here, Rice said the decision to have Burns join the Geneva meeting is a "strong signal" to the world that the Bush administration is serious about nuclear diplomacy with Iran, but that it has not softened its fundamental demand that Tehran must stop enrichment to end its political isolation:
"I would remind you that I signed the letter that sent the proposal forward to the Iranian regime," she noted. "And this is, in a sense, the bookend -- Bill Burns will go to receive the Iranian response. But it should be very clear to everyone: the United States has a condition for the beginning of negotiations with Iran. And that condition remains the verifiable suspension of Iran's enrichment and processing activities."
U.S. officials have declined to speculate what Iran's reply may be. But they say the range of comments by Tehran officials in recent weeks suggests, at least, an internal debate about whether to continue uranium enrichment - which the Tehran government has said is part of a peaceful nuclear program.