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. Rice ready for direct Iran talks if enrichment stops
WASHINGTON, April 2 (AFP) Apr 03, 2007
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday she was open to direct talks with Iran if it froze its sensitive uranium enrichment work.

"If Iran suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities and we go to six-party talks ... you would never rule out that it might be useful at some point to have a bilateral encounter that moves forward those (talks)," Rice said.

"But what you don't want to do, I think, is make this US-Iranian negotiations over the Iranian nuclear weapon," she said.

Rice has previously said she was open to talks on Iran that would include major negotiators Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, but has until now excluded the possibility of bilateral talks with Iran.

The UN Security Council resolution has imposed sanctions on Iran for failing to suspends uranium enrichment, which makes fuel for civilian nuclear reactors but also produces material for atomic bombs.

But Iran continues to defy the international community and has vowed to increase its enrichment capacity, arguing that its nuclear program is strictly for civilian energy purposes.

Iran also says it will not halt enrichment as a precondition to talks on its nuclear program.

The United States and Iran have had no diplomatic relations since Washington severed ties in 1980 in the wake of the seizure of its embassy in Tehran by Islamist students.

A rare meeting between representatives of Iran and the United States took place last month at conference of Iraq's neighbors in Baghdad, when US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad challenged his Iranian counterpart over Tehran's alleged interference in Iraq.

Tehran rejected accusations that it was supplying arms and other support to Iraqi insurgents, while Khalilzad described the exchange as not "substantive" and lasting only a few minutes.

A new Iraq conference on the ministerial level is being prepared -- though no final date has been set -- at which Rice could have the opportunity to speak with her Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki.

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