US extends conditional offer to Iran

John Dimsdale May 31, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: The United States offered Iran an olive branch today. But it came with a kicker straight from the playground: You first. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said the US will join multinational talks with Iran and make it worth their economic while, if Iran stops its nuclear program first. Our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale has the details.

JOHN DIMSDALE: Secretary Rice dangled the prospect of warmer relations with Iran — relations that have been in the deep freeze since US embassy personnel were taken hostage in 1979. But Rice said that potential depends on Iran suspending its nuclear program.

SECRETARY CONDOLEEZA RICE: The benefits of this second path for the Iranian people, would go beyond civil nuclear energy and could include progressively greater economic cooperation. The United States will actively support these benefits both publicly and privately.

While this may be a major policy change by the Bush administration, Rice said don’t expect a renewal of diplomatic, or even economic relations with Iran.

MICHAEL O’HANLON The carrots are going to be limited in quantity.

Michael O’Hanlon, a Mideast expert with the Brookings Institution, says the best economic incentives the US can offer Iran is to look the other way while it continues to do business with the rest of the world.

O’HANLON: The bottom line here is that Iran is a state sponsor of terror. And if Iranians are being offered some help on the nuclear issue and can keep all their commercial ties with Russia, China and Europe, that’s still a pretty good package. Iran can’t be too upset by that.

The US announcement was immediately welcomed by the so-called EU-3 — Britain, France and Germany — which have already been negotiating with Iran. Tomorrow, Secretary Rice meets with the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council to finalize a package of international incentives and threats that will be presented to Iran.

In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

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