U.S.: Six world powers accept Iran's offer to hold talks
State Department: Based on Tehran's response, Obama will decide whether diplomatic outreach will continue.
The United States and five partner countries have decided to accept Iran's new offer to hold talks, even though Iran insists it will not negotiate over its disputed nuclear program, the State Department said Friday.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters that although Iran's proposal for international talks - presented to the six powers on Wednesday - was disappointing for sidestepping the nuclear issue, it represented a chance to begin a direct dialogue.
"We are seeking a meeting now based on the Iranian paper to see what Iran is prepared to do," Crowley said. "And then, as the president has said, you know, if Iran responds to our interest in a meeting, we'll see when that can occur. We hope that will occur as soon as possible."
In its proposal, Iran ignored a demand by the six world powers - the U.S., Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - for a freeze of its uranium enrichment, which is suspected of leading to production of a nuclear weapon.
Iran insists that its nuclear work is strictly for peaceful non-military purposes.
Iran pronounced itself ready to embark on comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations.
On Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country will neither halt uranium enrichment nor negotiate over its nuclear rights but is ready to sit and talk with world powers over global challenges.
Crowley said Iran's lack of interest in addressing its nuclear program is not a reason to refuse to talk.
"If we have talks, we will plan to bring up the nuclear issue," he said.
"So we are seeking a meeting because ultimately the only way that we feel we're going to be able to resolve these issues is to have a meeting," Crowley added.
"But it's not just a meeting for meeting's sake; it is a meeting to be able to see if Iran is willing to engage us seriously on these issues."
The decision to take up Iran's offer was communicated publicly Friday in Brussels by Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief who is an intermediary for the six powers, who represent the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.
"We are all committed to meaningful negotiations with Iran to resolve the international community's concerns about their nuclear program," Solana said in a brief written statement. He said his office was in contact with Iranian officials to arrange a meeting at the earliest possible opportunity.
Crowley said there is no assumption that new talks with Iran will be productive. But the proposal made Wednesday by the Iranian government indicated at least a new willingness to engage diplomatically, he said.
"There's language in the letter that simply says the government of Iran is willing to enter into dialogue," the spokesman said. "We are going to test that proposition, okay? And if Iran is willing to enter into serious negotiations, then they will find a willing participant in the United States and the other countries."
Crowley said the administration will, between now and December, assess where its diplomatic approach stands. "Iran's willingness to deal with the nuclear issues in the proposed new talks will be part of that assessment," he said.
Iran on Wednesday handed a package of proposals to major powers including the United States, Russia, France, Britain, China and Germany. The countries are evaluating the proposals after giving the Islamic Republic until this month to respond to their demand for talks on its nuclear program.
The Iranian proposals include a global system to eliminate nuclear weapons as well as cooperation on Afghanistan and fighting terrorism. But, crucially, Iran said it would not discuss its uranium enrichment program, which some Western powers fear could be used to build a nuclear bomb.
"We are all committed to meaningful negotiations with Iran to resolve the International Community's concerns about their nuclear program," Solana said.
Iran's new proposal for talks with the West promises wide-ranging negotiations but does not provide details of the country's disputed nuclear program, according to a copy of the document published by an investigative group.
The five-page proposal, published online by New York-based ProPublica, says Tehran is ready to embark on comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations.
ProPublica did not say how it obtained the proposal. A Western diplomat familiar with the Iranian nuclear file said the document published on ProPublica was authentic. The diplomat spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Iran insists its atomic program is peaceful and geared solely toward generating electricity. The United States and key allies contend it's covertly trying to build a nuclear weapon.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki handed his country's proposals for new talks to the ambassadors of Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany - and to the Swiss ambassador, who represents U.S. interests.
The proposal says Iran is prepared to enter into dialogue and negotiation in order to lay the ground for lasting peace. It lists a wide range of issues for discussion, including disarmament, trade and investment, fighting terrorism and protecting human dignity.
U.S. officials said Thursday that the proposal falls well short of satisfying international demands that Iran detail its nuclear program. On Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country will neither halt uranium enrichment nor negotiate over its nuclear rights but is ready to sit and talk with world powers over global challenges.
According to the document, the Islamic Republic of Iran believes that within the framework of principles of justice, democracy and multilateralism, a wide range of security, political, economic and cultural issues at regional and global levels could be included in these negotiations with a view of fostering constructive cooperation for advancement of nations and promotion of peace and stability in the region and the world, the proposal says.
U.S. President Barack Obama and European allies have given Iran until the end of September to take up an offer of nuclear talks with six world powers and trade incentives should it suspend uranium enrichment activities. It has already defied three sets of UN Security Council sanctions since 2006 for its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment.
Iran's supreme leader warns opponents in sermon
Iran's supreme leader has warned opponents that any confrontation with the country's Islamic establishment would meet with a harsh response.
The remarks by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei were a clear message to the Iranian opposition and reformists who have challenged his authority in the aftermath of the disputed June presidential election.
Khamenei says authorities will strongly punish those who take up the sword to confront the principles of the Islamic system.
But he said peaceful differences and criticism by officials would be tolerated.
Khamenei led Friday prayers in Tehran. His sermon was broadcast on state television.
Khamenei has final say on all state matters and has backed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election for president.