U.S. Ready for ‘Serious’ Direct Nuclear Iran Negotiations

The U.S. is ready for direct talks with Iran over its contested nuclear program as soon as the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gives a commitment to negotiate, Vice President Joe Biden said.

“When the Iranian Supreme Leader is serious, we have made it clear at the outset that we would be prepared to meet bi-laterally with the Iranian leadership,” Biden said today at the Munich Security Conference. “We would not do it in secret. That offer stands. It is real and tangible.”

U.S. and Iranian diplomats haven’t acknowledged bilateral meetings since October 2009, when they came together at a nuclear gathering in Geneva. The so-called P5+1, composed of China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and U.S., held a series of meetings with Iran to defuse tension over the Persian Gulf nation’s atomic work. Those negotiations broke down in June at the last round of talks in Moscow.

“We have to convince Iran that it isn’t about regime change,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at the Munich conference. “Any use of force, any threat of use of force will be unacceptable.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi is scheduled to speak on a panel at the Munich conference tomorrow.

No Progress

United Nations nuclear monitors, who continue to verify the non-military use of Iran’s atomic material, have been investigating the country’s alleged weapons research for a decade. Iran, under dozens of international sanctions because it refuses to suspend its atomic work, has maintained its nuclear activities are peaceful.

“Let’s be frank, we haven’t gotten anywhere with Iran in the last year,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said today in Munich. “It is essential that we focus all our efforts on a diplomatic solution.”

The U.S. imposed a diplomatic moratorium on Iran after the 1979 Islamic revolution, when 52 U.S. diplomats were held hostage in Tehran for 444 days. Israel, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, has said military force may be needed to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

“Iran also has legitimate security concerns,” Lavrov said. “It has been attacked several times while it hasn’t attacked anyone.”

Iranian nuclear scientists and facilities have been targeted by assassins and sabotage. Iran, which supports the militant Islamist group Hezbollah, fought an eight-year war with Iraq until 1988 after neighboring forces invaded it.

“There is still time, there is still space for diplomacy backed by pressure to succeed,” Biden said. “The ball is in the government of Iran’s court, and it’s well past time to adopt a serious good faith approach to negotiations.”

The leader of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani, said last week that direct talks with the U.S. aren’t a ‘‘red line.’’ The nations Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has decreed nuclear weapons forbidden under the Islamic republic’s laws, has in the past criticized what he described as Western hypocrisy over the atomic issue.

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