The United States dismissed on Sunday the idea of a partial suspension of uranium enrichment by Iran, saying that Washington and its allies still insisted on a full suspension.
“My counterparts, when I talk with them, are not interested in lowering the bar,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters as she flew to Paris for talks with the new French government on issues including Sudan, Iran and Iraq.
“I don’t know what partial suspension means,” she added. “It doesn’t seem to me to be a very wise course.”
The United Nations Security Council last July demanded that Iran suspend all uranium enrichment activities, a process that can produce material for a nuclear weapon. Iran has refused to do so and in December the Security Council imposed sanctions on Iranian trade in sensitive nuclear materials and technology.
Western nations suspect that Iran is seeking to develop an atomic bomb under the cover of its civilian nuclear program. Iran has said its nuclear program aims to generate electricity so that it can export more of its valuable oil and gas.
Asked about reports in recent weeks that suggested the West might settle for a partial suspension, Rice said: “I don’t know where that’s coming from because I will tell you that, in my conversations with my counterparts, everybody understands the importance of and believes strongly in the importance of carrying out the … Security Council mandate for suspension.”
Describing such reports as “chatter,” she said “people are looking, obviously, for ways that Iran might be able to suspend but suspension remains the core of the effort.”
Six world powers have insisted that Tehran stop enriching uranium as a precondition for formal negotiations on trade and other incentives offered last year in return for Iran giving up sensitive nuclear work.
European foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who has been asked by the six to conduct talks with Iran, said he had constructive discussions with Iran’s top nuclear negotiators in Lisbon on Saturday and hoped for another round in three weeks.
Rice said the United States fully supported his efforts but would continue to pursue the possibility of a fresh Security Council resolution against Iran. She said she expected to speak to Solana in Paris about his recent talks with Iran.
“There always need to be parallel paths, one to continue down the Security Council path and the other to give a chance for negotiations,” she said. “But I think Javier will have to help us judge how much life is left on the dialogue side.”
A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last month said Iran was accelerating a campaign to install 3,000 enrichment centrifuges by mid-summer, laying a basis for “industrial-scale” fuel production.
The United States has argued that if it began negotiations with Iran before it suspended uranium enrichment, Tehran could conceivably keep pursuing an atomic bomb as talks dragged on.