The United States tried Tuesday to salvage its plan to punish Iran with sanctions if it does not back down in a nuclear standoff with the West, even as President George W. Bush told Iranians he hopes that one day "America and Iran can be good friends."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice convened nations that have offered Iran a bargain to head off what the United States and others fear is a drive to build a nuclear bomb. The United States had hoped to use the gathering to move decisively toward political and economic sanctions on Iran now that it has missed a UN deadline to shelve disputed nuclear activities, but cold feet among allies this month has made that possibility remote.
Rice warned that the world will have a credibility problem if it does not act. She also acknowledged that talks are already under way between the European Union and Tehran without preconditions.
That is a concession for the United States, which has led a drive to force Iran to choose between looming UN sanctions or talks that could reward it for scaling back its nuclear program.