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. Europe hails US offer of direct talks with Iran
BRUSSELS, May 31 (AFP) May 31, 2006
The European Union hailed Wednesday the United States' conditional offer to join direct talks on Iran's nuclear program, saying it strengthens hopes for a diplomatic solution.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, who along with his British and German counterparts has spearheaded diplomatic efforts to engage Tehran, said the US policy shift "reinforces the credibility" of Europe's efforts.

"Direct US participation would be the strongest and most positive signal of our common wish to reach an agreement with Iran," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, referring to comments by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"This important statement by the US administration reinforces our hope that out of the current discussions we will be able to establish a new and cooperative relationship with Iran, based on mutual confidence."

The French minister added: "I welcome the availability of the United States, and possibly of other partners, to join the negotiations launched by Germany, Britain and France with Iran.

"This reinforces the credibility of European efforts and the proposals which the Europeans want to make to Iran, with the support of the international community," Douste-Blazy said.

The European comments came after Rice, in a policy shift, said Washington is ready to join direct talks with Europe on Iran's nuclear program if Tehran suspends all uranium enrichment activities.

She made the offer of the first substantive talks with Iran since diplomatic ties were broken off 26 years ago as she prepared to leave for a crucial meeting of world powers in Vienna on Tehran's suspected nuclear arms program.

"To underscore our commitment to a diplomatic solution and to enhance the prospects for success, as soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table with our EU-3 colleagues and meet with Iran's representatives," she said.

Solana added: "I welcome this statement. We have always valued the strong and growing support of the US administration in this dossier."

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