The State Department confirms that Iran could enter negotiations on its nuclear program without initially meeting the demand of the United States and other major powers that it suspend its uranium enrichment program.  U.S. officials say they are amenable to a so-called pre-negotiation in which Iran would only be required to stop adding to its enrichment capacity. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The offer of a so-called pre-negotiation period had been reported in recent days in news accounts quoting various diplomatic sources, but the comments by State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack were the most specific on the subject to date.

The United States, along with the four other permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and Germany, have offered Iran a variety of incentives including aid for its civil nuclear program if it halts a uranium-enrichment drive that U.S. and other officials believe is weapons related.

European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana and a delegation of diplomats from the P-5 plus-1 group presented Iran in mid-June with what is described as a refreshed incentives proposal, to which Iran has yet to give a final reply.

In a talk with reporters, State Department Spokesman McCormack confirmed that the big-power proposal also includes the offer of a pre-negotiation period, lasting six weeks, in which Iran would add no more centrifuges to its enrichment effort though existing ones could stay in operation.

During that period, Iran would begin nuclear talks with members of the P-5 plus 1, excluding the United States, on the benefits package.

The United States, which has not had diplomatic relations with Iran in nearly three-decades, would join the talks at the end of the pre-negotiation period provided, by that time, Iran has suspended its enrichment program.

If Iran suspended the enrichment program, the major powers would suspend enactment of U.N. Security Council sanctions on Iran.

In his comments, McCormack defended the pre-negotiation offer amid suggestions by some critics that it is too generous an offer to Tehran:

"It still holds that in order to realize full-blown negotiations with the United States at the table at the level of Secretary of State, they need to suspend - suspension for suspension.  We think that this is an eminently-reasonable offer and should the Iranians accept the offer, we think that at the end of what would be less than two months, you could get to the desired goal: suspension for suspension and the beginning of a negotiations, potentially on a whole host of issues," he said.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said repeatedly that if Iran suspended uranium enrichment, she would be prepared to directly engage her Iranian counterpart in any venue on any issue the Iranians would want to raise.

Iran is expected to deliver its answer to the refreshed incentives offer soon, probably in a Tehran meeting between the European Union's Solana and Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.

Though public Iranian comments about the offer have been largely negative, officials here say there have also been remarks that suggest a debate within the Iranian leadership about whether to accept.

McCormack said turning down the incentives offer would mean increased political isolation and tighter economic curbs on Iran, noting this week's decision by the French energy firm Total to halt plans for a major investment in Iranian oil fields.

The U.S. spokesman also said the Bush administration sees no need to send its key envoy on the nuclear issue, Undersecretary of State William Burns, to Tehran with Mr. Solana on his expected mission.  He said the U.S. commitment and good faith with regard to the incentives offer is already clear.