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Rice Says U.S. Is Unclear About Iran's Response To Nuclear Incentives

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice
WASHINGTON -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says it is unclear whether Iran will respond positively this weekend to an offer to suspend sensitive nuclear work in exchange for incentives.

"I don't know," Rice said when asked if she anticipated a positive response from Iran during the July 19 talks that a senior U.S. envoy is also attending, in a break with U.S. policy.

"The point we are making is that the United States is firmly behind this diplomacy and firmly behind and unified with our allies. Hopefully the Iranians will take that message," she added.

Rice decided this week to send the third-ranking official in the State Department, William Burns, to a meeting in Geneva with Iran's nuclear negotiator, along with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and other envoys from China, Russia, France, Britain, and Germany.

'We Will See'

Iran is expected to respond to an offer of incentives made last month by major powers, which includes financial and diplomatic carrots as well as cooperation in developing a civilian nuclear program.

"We will see what the Iranians say," said Rice.

She said Burns' attendance -- a sharp departure from the usual U.S. isolation policy on Iran -- would make it clear to Iran that the international community was united.

"[We are] ... offering the Iranians a way to really engage with the international community but also being insistent that they need to suspend verifiably their program in order to enter into negotiations," she said.

While Burns is going to the Geneva talks, the United States has said it will only begin full-blown negotiations with Iran if it gives up uranium enrichment, which the West believes is aimed at developing a nuclear weapon and Iran says is for peaceful power generation.

After his talks in Geneva, Burns will travel on to Abu Dhabi on July 21 to brief Rice in person on the talks, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. Rice is making a stopover in the Gulf en route to Singapore for a meeting of southeast Asian ministers.

Opening Interests Section

The United States is looking at opening an interests section in Iran to help improve ties with the country and its people. Washington has had no diplomatic relations with Tehran since after the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

McCormack, who refused to detail deliberations over an interests section, said the issue would not be discussed in the talks with Iran's nuclear negotiator, Said Jalili.

Burns indicated in testimony last week that the Bush administration was looking into the issue.

"The idea of the interests section is an interesting one and is one that is worth looking at carefully. I cannot go beyond that," said Burns.