Addressing the annual Munich Security Conference in Germany on Saturday, Vice President Joe Biden reaffirmed that an offer first made four years ago remains open.
He quoted his own words to the same conference in February 2009, when he had said, “We will be willing to talk to Iran and offer a very clear choice: Continue down the course and there will be continued pressure and isolation; abandon the illicit nuclear program and your support for terrorism, there will be meaningful incentives.”
“As President Obama has made clear to Iranian leaders, our policy is not containment,” Biden told his audience on Saturday. “It is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. But we’ve also made clear that Iran’s leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation and international isolation.
“There is still time, there is still space for diplomacy, backed by pressure, to succeed."
Asked about this during a brief question-and-answer session, Biden said the administration has made it clear from the outset that “we would be prepared to meet bilaterally with the Iranian leadership.”
“We would not make it a secret that we were doing that. We would let our partners know if that occasion presented itself,” he continued. “That offer stands, but it must be real and tangible, and there has to be an agenda that they’re prepared to speak to. We are not just prepared to do it for the exercise.”
A day earlier, Biden told the German daily Suddeutsche Zeitung that the U.S. believed “there is time and space for successful diplomacy, supported by economic pressure.” He added that “this window will not remain open indefinitely.”
“I think this is a step forward,” he said in English. “But please, do note that each time we have come and negotiated, it was the other side, unfortunately, who did not heed to its commitment.”
According to Iran’s official IRNA news agency, Salehi also said dialogue had to include an end to “threatening rhetoric, and a change in attitude” by Washington.
“We value our independence very dearly,” IRNA quoted him as saying. “We are no longer in the political orbit of the Western powers and no country can look down on us any longer.”
Salehi also addressed the issue in media interviews, telling Iran’s Press TV that Tehran “will have to wait a little bit longer to see if their gesture is this time a real gesture.”
“We are a rational government and we look into resolving all outstanding international issues through negotiation,” Salehi added. “Conflict is not the way. Engagement is the way.”
‘Iran is much stronger than Iraq and Afghanistan’
For more than three years the administration – including Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton – has been warning Iran that the U.S.’s patience is not unlimited, and that the “window” for engagement is closing.
Over roughly the period of Obama’s first term, Iran has increased its holdings of low-enriched uranium (LEU) more than eight-fold, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) – from 839 kilograms in November 2008 to 6,876 kilograms in October 2012.
The Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security says 6,876 kilograms of LEU, “if further enriched to weapon grade, is enough to make over six nuclear weapons.”
Iran insists that its uranium-enrichment program is for purely peaceful purposes.
The IAEA told member states last month that Iran has informed the agency of plans to upgrade its uranium-enrichment facilities at Natanz, allowing a stepped-up rate of enrichment.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told a press briefing on Thursday that the planned installation of new, advanced centrifuges was “a further escalation,” in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.
“We continue to believe that there is time and space for diplomacy to work, but actions like this undercut the efforts of the international community to resolve its concerns over Iran’s nuclear weapons.”
In an interview with Iran’s Mehr news agency last week Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign relations advisor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said the Americans had “failed” in Iraq and Afghanistan, and “if they are rational, they will forget launching a military strike against Iran.”
“Today, the U.S. is weaker than the time when she invaded Iraq,” he said. “And Iran is much stronger than Iraq and Afghanistan.”
A new round of “P5+1” talks with the Iranians over the nuclear issue has been scheduled for later this month, in Kazakhstan. The last was held in Moscow last June. The countries involved are the five permanent members of the Security Council – the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France – and Germany.