US may meet with Iran, emphasizing need for ‘engagement'

Western officials signal they would be willing to resume talks on confidence building agreement brokered with Iran last year but never implemented.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
September 24, 2010 04:13
3 minute read.
S-300 missile truck.

s300 missile truck 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

WASHINGTON – Both the US and Iran moved toward engagement during a week of diplomacy at the opening of UN General Assembly, indicating that they and other world powers might soon meet.

Western officials are signaling that they would be willing to resume talks on a confidence building agreement brokered with Iran last year but never implemented, giving way to months of focusing on sanctions and other forms of pressure on Teheran in a bid to halt its enrichment of uranium.

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A statement released following Wednesday’s meeting of the P5+1 international group that has taken the lead on the issue – the US, Russia, China, Britain and France, plus Germany – emphasized its preference for negotiations and its effort to use diplomacy to resolve the standoff.

“We reaffirmed our determination and commitment to seek an early negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue and focused our discussion on further steps to achieve it at an early date,” said Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief and lead negotiator for the P5+1.

A senior US official described the P5+1 meeting as focusing on getting back to negotiations.

“With some signs that Iran may be willing to meet this autumn, the ministers focused heavily on preparations for such talks,” he told reporters in a briefing conducted under condition of anonymity.

He said those signs have come from things Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said to the media and comments non-American P5+1 diplomats have heard from Iranian officials in New York.

The US has had no public encounters with Iranians during the UN opening, and the American official said there are no plans for any one-on-one USIran meeting.

Ahmadinejad, however, has been making the rounds of the American media during his visit, and made statements indicating Teheran is ready to come to the table.

“We have always been prepared to talk,” he told reporters at a press event organized by Iran’s Foreign Ministry, according to media in attendance.

“We are prepared now as well, and I probably would say there is a good chance that talks will resume in the near future.”

The senior administration official said the US was going to be taking a “phased” approach to Iran, given the lack of trust between the parties.

He pointed to a possible “revised and updated” arrangement concerning the provision of fuel for Iran’s research reactor as a potential way “to build confidence.”

Last fall the P5+1 negotiated a deal where most of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium would be shipped abroad via France and Russia to be further enriched and then resupplied to the reactor so that Iran could use the material for medical treatment but not for making a bomb.

However, Iran failed to implement the deal and in the meantime has enriched more uranium.

In the meantime, the UN Security Council passed new sanctions against Iran, and the US, EU and others have passed unilateral measures. But aside from a “brief” conversation in which the P5+1 countries emphasized their intention to implement the Security Council resolution, the pressure track was not emphasized in Wednesday’s meeting, according to the US official.

He said much of the meeting was devoted to “making very clear our readiness to engage seriously and directly,” adding, “that’s our focus right now.”


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