| Iranian President Magmoud Ahamdinejad at the funeral of his father Ahmad Ahmadinejad in Tehran. (AFP)
Washington, May 31 (Reuters): The US, in a major policy shift toward Iran, said today it would join European governments in talks with Tehran if it suspended its nuclear enrichment programme.
President George W. Bush said the US was taking a “leadership position” to resolve the Iran nuclear dispute diplomatically, but secretary of state Condoleezza Rice stressed that the military option was still on the table.
“The President is not going to take any of his options off the table, temporarily or otherwise,” Rice said.
Rice added that the talks offer was part of a package of incentives and sanctions whose “essential elements” have been agreed with Britain, France and Germany and will be discussed further tomorrow in Vienna.
The resumption of diplomatic ties with Iran was not under consideration and Iran would incur “great costs” if it continued to pursue nuclear weapons, she said.
Iranian officials had no immediate comment on the US offer but European allies France and Britain welcomed it. “The US offer will ... give added weight to the proposals which foreign ministers will be discussing in Vienna tomorrow,” British foreign minister Margaret Beckett said.
French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy urged the Iranian authorities to respond in a “constructive manner” to European proposals.
Rice also said she hoped the offer would create a “climate of action” and get Iran to suspend what Washington and its allies consider its nuclear weapons programme.
“It’s time to know whether Iran is serious about negotiation or not,” said Rice.
Tehran says it is willing to negotiate on the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges it uses for research, but has stressed it would not stop running the devices entirely as the UN Security Council has called for.
Crude oil futures fell about $1.5 a barrel in New York trading following the Rice comments on Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer.
Escalating tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme and concerns that Iran may choose to retaliate by limiting crude supplies to the global market have been one of the key drivers of lofty oil prices.
The US has often said it was open to talks with Iran, but the Bush administration has repeatedly dismissed growing calls from members of the US Congress, former officials and prominent analysts for dialogue.
The US and the so-called EU3 ' France, Germany and Britain ' have been working with Russia and China on a “carrot and stick” package, designed to persuade Iran to abandon activities that Tehran insists are only intended for peaceful energy purposes.
US officials, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity, said Russia and China generally support the package but there were still some details to negotiate during talks in Vienna tomorrow.
The US, aiming to win Russian support, has accepted language in a proposed UN Security Council resolution that would rule out the immediate threat of military action against Tehran.
The compromise involves not invoking the whole Chapter 7 of the UN Charter as Washington had been demanding, but citing specific articles that leave out the one referring to use of force.