France: 'Iran must stop enrichment during talks'

French insistence follows reports that White House ready to soften stance on dialogue conditions.

robert wood 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
robert wood 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
France said Wednesday that Iran must suspend "sensitive" nuclear activities during any negotiations with the international community on its controversial atomic program. Paris appeared to be taking a tougher line than the US, which neither confirmed nor categorically denied a New York Times report that it would not demand that Iran halt uranium enrichment as a condition for talks. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal stood by the 2007 offer made to Teheran by the P5+1 group - the UK, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US. According to that proposal, Teheran would halt all nuclear activity beyond its civilian site in Bushehr, including all uranium enrichment, while the group would avoid seeking new UN economic sanctions. Nadal said that substantial negotiations with Iran on the future of its nuclear program could only begin during this period, according to AFP. He said that while France was open to a "dialogue" with Iran at any time to improve relations, official talks on the nuclear program could only go ahead according to the 2007 offer. Earlier Wednesday, during a briefing on foreign policy issues, acting State Department spokesman Robert Wood said, "Suspension [of uranium enrichment] is still our goal." When asked how this position meshed with President US Barack Obama's statement that the US was willing to sit at the table with Iran without preconditions, Wood answered, "This issue of suspension of uranium enrichment is an international condition, not an American condition." Wood said the US was still reviewing its policy regarding Iran. "There are certain elements of [the United States' policy on Iran] that we have already laid out for you. There will be others in the future," he told reporters. On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that the Obama administration was drafting proposals that would shift strategy toward Iran by dropping the longstanding American insistence that Teheran rapidly shut down nuclear facilities during the early phases of negotiations over its nuclear program. The Times quoted officials involved in talks between the US and European countries geared at solidifying a Western position vis-à-vis Teheran. During the briefing, Wood told a reporter, "I saw the story, but I'm just laying out for you what our position is." Asked whether Iran must suspend enrichment in order for talks to start, Wood would not categorically deny the Times' report. "We have said very clearly that we are willing to engage in direct diplomacy with Iran without conditions," he said, reiterating that the demand that Iran stop uranium enrichment was not a US demand but "a demand of the P5+1." The P5+1 is the group of five permanent UN Security Council members - China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States - with Germany. The group has been representing the interests of Western nations in negotiations with Iran since the days of the George W. Bush administration.