At a time when many foreign policy mavens consider “what to do about Iran” and its nuclear ambitions one of the most vexing issues confronting the Obama administration, Vice President Joe Biden is now leaving the door ajar for direct talks with Tehran:
The United States is prepared to hold direct talks with Iran in the standoff over its nuclear ambitions, Vice President Joe Biden said Saturday – but he insisted that Tehran must show it is serious and Washington won’t engage in such talks merely “for the exercise.”
During a trip to an international security conference in Germany, Biden also addressed Syria’s civil war. He met with top Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib and with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia, a longtime ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Separately, al-Khatib met with Lavrov for the first time, offering a glimmer of hope for stalled diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict, though the Russian minister later sounded skeptical.
Washington has indicated in the past that it’s prepared to talk directly with Iran, and talks involving all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany have made little headway while several rounds of international sanctions have cut into Iran’s oil sales and financial transactions.
Last month Iran, in a defiant move ahead of new talks expected soon with the six powers, announced plans to vastly increase its pace of uranium enrichment. That can be used to make both reactor fuel and the fissile core of warheads.
Biden told an international security conference that “there is still time, there is still space for diplomacy backed by pressure to succeed.” He did not specify any timeframe.
He insisted that “the ball is in the government of Iran’s court” to show that it’s negotiating in good faith.
Asked when Washington might hold direct talks with Tehran, Biden replied: “When the Iranian leadership, the supreme leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei), is serious.”
The U.S. has long made clear that it is prepared to meet directly with the Iranian leadership, he added – “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,” Biden told the Munich Security Conference.
Russia’s Lavrov, whose country is a key player in the six-nation talks with Iran, said it was important to offer Iran clear incentives to resolve the nuclear standoff. “We have to convince Iran that it is not about the regime change,” he said.
Talks with the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany have made little progress, but analysts have long predicted President Obama might increase efforts to sit down with Tehran after his re-election, points out Reuters. Iran itself is holding elections in June so any progress in negotiations before then seem unlikely. But things could move after that with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle predicting that “2013 is the decisive year on Iran, especially for political reasons.”
If it doesn’t turn decisive in defusing the crisis, look for the Iran issue to push international tensions — particularly in the Middle East — to the boiling point. One factor to watch: how will this be received by Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans in Congress?