June 2nd, 2006 04:19 EST
State's Semmel says overture to Iran had been under discussion for some time
Washington -- A State Department nonproliferation expert says that “time is of the essence” in dealing with Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, making it important to keep up the diplomatic pressure.
Andrew Semmel, acting deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation policy and negotiations, said the proposal made by the United States to join the EU-3 (European Union members: France, Germany and the United Kingdom) talks with Iran if Tehran agrees to verifiably suspend its nuclear enrichment-related and reprocessing efforts did not materialize suddenly.
The U.S. proposal, offered by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice May 31, had been under discussion for a considerable period of time, Semmel told an audience at the United Nations Association of the United States of America June 1. (See related article.)
The U.S. negotiating strategy with Iran has been to increase pressure gradually, he said, while exploring every opportunity to persuade the Tehran regime to forgo nuclear weapons development. The latest initiative points to U.S. willingness “to give it one more try,” the official said.
Semmel spoke during a panel discussion at the same time Rice was in Vienna for the announcement of a European proposal to offer Iran a package of incentives and disincentives to comply with the wishes of the international community. (See related article.)
In his prepared remarks, Semmel said Iran has to make a choice. If it continues on its current course, he said, “it will face increasing isolation” and further action by the United Nations Security Council. But if it reacts in a constructive manner, he said, “it will lead to negotiations that can provide peaceful nuclear energy for the Iranian people.”
The United States and its allies want diplomacy to succeed so that Iran can experience the benefits of cooperation, Semmel said. “Iran should not believe that it can benefit from the possession of nuclear weapons,” he said.
U.S. and European officials are urging Iran to suspend enrichment efforts, cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and return to negotiations, Semmel said.
The tough U.S. stance regarding suspension of Iran’s reprocessing activities “is not just a bilateral issue,” he said.
Even if Iran initially rejects the condition-based offer to sit down at the table with the United States, Semmel said it might be an opening bargaining position. He said it remains to be seen how Iran’s position may evolve, adding that no one can know what its ultimate response will be.
Semmel also was asked about lessons the United States learned from Iraq’s weapons development program that might be applied to the situation in Iran. First, he said, every opportunity is being afforded to Iran to return to the negotiating table.
He also said U.S. officials are being very careful to be certain about what they know to be factual about Iranian developments. Being very deliberate about what is known and unknown about Iran is one of the lessons learned from the experience in Iraq, the official said.
Another point, Semmel said, is to extend diplomatic overtures to Iran as long as possible, allowing the opportunity for a diplomatic breakthrough.
United Nations Under-Secretary General for Disarmament Affairs Nobuaki Tanaka, who also was part of the panel discussion, welcomed Rice’s offer to sit down with Iran if it meets the stipulated conditions. “I only hope Iran will respond very quickly to this appeal,” he said.
UNDERSTANDING THE REACH OF THE A.Q. KHAN NETWORK
Semmel also was asked about efforts to understand the scope of the nuclear proliferation network led by A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist who remains under house arrest in Islamabad. There is a serious, continuous effort under way to try to unravel what is still unknown about the clandestine network, he said. Although it is a very important issue, he noted that the investigation is being pursued mostly through intelligence channels, where sensitive information is highly classified and restricted.
Since the tentacles of the Khan network were clearly far-reaching, Semmel said, the case is not yet closed.
For more information on U.S. policy, see Limiting Nuclear Weapons.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)