U.S. says Iran faces cooperation or conflict
The United States said on Saturday after inconclusive talks with Iran that Tehran had a choice between cooperation or conflict and negotiations could begin with Washington only if sensitive nuclear work ended, Reuters reported.
"We hope the Iranian people understand that their leaders need to make a choice between cooperation, which would bring benefits to all, and confrontation, which can only lead to further isolation," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack after the Geneva talks, attended for the first time by senior U.S. diplomat William Burns.
He said Burns did not meet or speak separately with any member of the Iranian delegation and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana delivered a clear message to the Iranians but did not get a straight answer in return.
"Mr. Solana did not get a straight "yes" or "no" answer. Mr. Solana stressed that Iran needs to give a clear answer within two weeks," said McCormack, who was given a report of the meeting by Burns from Geneva.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made clear Burns' attendance at the Geneva talks was a "one-shot deal" and a senior official told Reuters on Saturday the U.S. diplomat had no plans to attend a meeting Solana is likely to hold with the Iranians in the next few weeks.
Rice's decision to send Burns to Geneva was a sharp departure from the usual U.S. policy, which has been not to talk to Iran about its nuclear program until Tehran gives up uranium enrichment work the West believes is aimed at building an atomic bomb. Iran says it is for peaceful power purposes.
McCormack said Burns' told Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili personally that the United States was serious in its support for a package of incentives delivered by major powers last month, but Iran must suspend enrichment for full-blown negotiations involving the United States.
"As Mr. Solana said today after the meeting, Iran has a choice to make: negotiation or further isolation," said McCormack.
Iran has been subject to three rounds of U.N. sanctions and diplomats say Tehran faces more punitive measures if it does not agree to the package of incentives, which includes diplomatic and financial benefits as well as cooperation on a civilian nuclear program.
The United States cut off diplomatic ties with Iran nearly 30 years ago but there have been signs of a thaw in relations, with the meeting in Geneva and the possibility that Washington might open up an interest section in Tehran.
The interest section would allow for diplomatic contact, while falling short of diplomatic ties. Burns told Congress last week the idea of an interest section was "worth looking at carefully" but he declined to provide details.
Rice is expected to get a full briefing from Burns on Monday when the senior U.S. diplomat will join her on a stopover in Abu Dhabi, en route to a meeting of South Asian foreign ministers in Singapore.