World powers and Iran will engage in a new round of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program in Geneva Saturday, July 19. The presence of a senior US diplomat at the talks has promoted an atmopshere of cautious optimism.
The US will participate in talks with Iran for the first time in 30 years
On behalf of the veto powers and Germany, EU chief diplomat Javier Solana will meet Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeid Jalili to talk about an offer of future cooperation in the areas of economy, nuclear energy and politics once Tehran halts its nuclear activities.
The United States' representative at the talks, Undersecretary of State William Burns, is the first US diplomat in 30 years to participate in negotiations with Iran. He will not take an active role in the talks, however.
Representatives from Britain, France, Germany, Russia and Chinawill also attend the meeting. These and other countries are concerned Iran could one day use its civilian nuclear program to build atom bombs, an allegation which Tehran strongly denies.
Western countries have slapped several sets of sanctions on Tehran over its refusal to halt enrichment. Iran vehemently denies seeking nuclear weapons, insisting that its program is designed to provide energy for its growing population for the time when its reserves of fossil fuels run out.
Rice admits to US policy shift
Burns will make history but will not take an active role
The sending of Burns as a senior envoy to Geneva to participate in the nuclear talks with Iran's top negotiator shows that the United States has shifted position on diplomacy with Iran, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Friday.
But she insisted that Tehran must suspend its enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear materials for substantive talks with Washington.
"The United States doesn't have any permanent enemies," Rice said in response to a reporter's question on the unexpected move to send a diplomat to meet directly with Jalili in Geneva.
"And we hope this signal we're sending, that we fully support the track that Iran could take for a better relationship with the international community, is one the United States stands fully behind."
"We have been very clear that any country can change course," Rice added. "This decision to send Undersecretary (William) Burns is an affirmation of the policy that we have been pursuing with our European allies... for some time now."
Rice called the move "a strong signal to the entire world that we have been very serious about this diplomacy and we will remain very serious about this diplomacy."
Rice pointed out that she had endorsed the proposal from the so-called P5 plus one -- the United States, France, Britain, China, Russia and Germany -- on incentives to advance talks with Iran on halting its nuclear program.
Rice said that the US still has conditions for negotiations
She called sending Burns to Geneva to meet with Jalili and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana the "book end" to that process.
"But it should be very clear to everyone the United States has a condition for the beginning of negotiations with Iran, and that condition remains the verifiable suspension of Iran's enrichment and reprocessing activities," Rice said.
Asked in an interview with CNN, excerpts of which were aired Friday, whether sending Burns to Geneva was a major policy change, Rice answered: "I acknowledge that what we've done is to make a step that we think demonstrates to everyone our seriousness about this process.
"But what has not changed is that the United States is determined to have negotiations only when Iran has suspended its enrichment and reprocessing. That's when the United States can join."
Asked if Saturday's meeting is a one-shot deal, Rice replied, "This is."
"We have one chance to receive the Iranian response. I transmitted the proposal. (Burns) will receive the response," she told CNN. "He will listen, and if Iran is ready to suspend, then the United States will be there."
Jalili was optimistic that the discussions would be positive
In Tehran, Jalili on Friday expressed optimism that weekend talks would be constructive, provided Washington came with the right approach.
"What is important for us is with what approach they come to the talks. If it is with a constructive approach, and that they refrain from past mistakes, then for sure we will have constructive talks," he was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency before leaving Tehran for Geneva.
Washington has long said it will not negotiate with Iran until it first suspends uranium enrichment and insisted on Wednesday that Burns was traveling to Geneva to listen to Iran's response and not negotiate.
Nonetheless, it will be the first time that the United States, which severed relations with Iran in 1980 after the Islamic revolution, will be present in the negotiations aimed at persuading Tehran to freeze uranium enrichment.
Russian, Iranian presidents hopeful
Meanwhile, the presidents of Iran and Russia expressed hope for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis on the eve of the key talks.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev held their first telephone talks late on Friday, Iranian state media and the Kremlin said.
"In the Geneva negotiations... we can examine ways to make decisions in different fields and help resolve the existing issues," the website of Iranian state television quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
He also expressed satisfaction over the current state of ties between Tehran and Moscow, which has substantial economic interests in the Islamic republic, state television said.
Medvedev watches the Middle East situation with interest
The Kremlin, meanwhile, quoted Medvedev as urging Iran "to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to clarify questions remaining about the Iranian nuclear program."
"The Russian president reiterated his firm position on resolving the situation surrounding Iran's nuclear program only by political and diplomatic means," it added.
Medvedev told Ahmadinejad he hoped for a "substantive and constructive dialogue" in Geneva on Saturday, it said.
Russia is one of the six world powers that last month gave Iran a proposal offering it full negotiations on a range of incentives if it suspends its sensitive uranium enrichment operations.