|French FM Philippe Douste-Blazy (l) and Condoleezza Rice|
Ms. Rice met with her French counterpart amid signs the Europeans are preparing to offer new incentives to persuade Iran to make permanent its suspension of uranium enrichment activity.
France along with Britain and Germany began the nuclear dialogue with Iran two years ago amid U.S. concerns that what Tehran says is a peaceful civilian nuclear program has long concealed a covert weapons component.
Iran agreed to suspend enrichment and reprocessing in last November's Paris agreement pending further talks with the Europeans on the future of its nuclear program.
At a joint news event with Secretary Rice, Mr. Douste-Blazy -- on his first Washington visit since taking office a month ago -- said the EU-Three will never accept a resumption of military nuclear activities by Iran.
The French minister pledged consultation with Washington as the Europeans prepare the new proposal for Tehran. Heard through an interpreter, he said the package may include security guarantees for Iran, and the provision of monitoring equipment to reassure the international community about Iran's nuclear intentions.
"Now, I think what we need to do is to base ourselves on finding a package which is credible for the Iranians, so as to make sure that we provide them with meteorology equipment, seismology equipment or other. And to make sure also that we discuss with them the security of their country. And for this we shall need the United States, and we shall talk with them before making the proposal. But I must say that our ultimate objective is to insure that there is a suspension of the enrichment and reprocessing of hazardous nuclear material," he said.
In her remarks, the secretary of state appeared to take a harder line toward Iran's nuclear activities.
Ms. Rice said the United States does not see the need for a civilian nuclear program in oil-rich Iran, and said the end result of the dialogue should not be a permanent suspension but the cessation of all Iranian activities associated with the nuclear fuel cycle.
"Well, the Paris agreement is initially about suspension. But ultimately the world has to be assured that Iran cannot have this capability. And that will ultimately have to be objective guarantees, and we believe that means cessation. But as a starting point, and as the negotiations are now under way, the first and most important step had been to make certain that the suspension is maintained. But no, we believe that it has to be cessation," she said.
A senior State Department official later told reporters that despite their different choice of words, Ms. Rice and her French counterpart were on the same page with regard to the goal of the nuclear talks.
He also indicated some U.S. flexibility on the retention of a nuclear-electric generating capability by Iran.
He cited as an example of a creative approach on the issue the agreement under which Russia is to supply fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power plant Iran is building on the Persian gulf, but take back the spent fuel for disposal in Russia.
The official said he knew of no plans for the United States to offer new incentives to Iran in support of a revised European negotiating package.
Earlier this year, to back the European initiative, the United States dropped its long-standing opposition for Iran's bid to join the World Trade Organization.
It also said it was prepared to approve sales to Iran of spare parts for its aging fleet of U.S.-made commercial airliners.