Iran General NewsIran should seize chance for talks with US, David...

Iran should seize chance for talks with US, David Miliband says

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ImageDaily Telegraph: David Miliband urged Iran to seize the "opportunity" created by America's olive branch on Thursday, adding that Tehran would "never" have a better chance to settle the confrontation over its nuclear ambitions.

The Daily Telegraph

David Miliband urged Iran to seize the "opportunity" created by America's olive branch on Thursday, adding that Tehran would "never" have a better chance to settle the confrontation over its nuclear ambitions.

By David Blair Diplomatic Editor

ImageThe Foreign Secretary praised President Barack Obama's "outreach" to Iran, but gave warning that Tehran must lay to rest the international community's suspicion that its real aim was to develop nuclear weapons.

Mr Obama has offered Iran direct talks and hailed the "achievement" of the Islamic Republic's art and culture in a conciliatory public message marking the Persian New Year. Iran has accepted an invitation to attend a conference on Afghanistan in The Hague next week, where its officials could meet Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State.

Speaking at the launch of the Foreign Office's annual human rights report, Mr Miliband said that America's new approach presented Iran with a fresh chance. "There will never be a better opportunity than that created by President Obama's election and his commitments and his recent outreach to the government and people of Iran," he said.

The Foreign Secretary urged Iran's leaders to "think very carefully about the possibility that now exists for a different kind of dialogue not only with us, but with the US".

Iran has insisted on its right to enrich uranium, a process now taking place inside an underground plant in Natanz. This "dual use" technology could be used to produce fuel for civil nuclear power stations – or weapons-grade uranium for a bomb.

The United Nations has passed five resolutions urging Iran to stop enriching uranium, three of which imposed economic sanctions. If Iran obeys the UN, the leading Western powers, along with Russia and China, have agreed to help the country build a civil nuclear programme.

Iran's regime has never given a definitive response to this offer. Mr Miliband believes that America's conciliatory approach makes it easier for Tehran to accept.

But Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, has insisted that America must change its policies in the Middle East, notably its support for Israel, before Iran will consider a rapprochement. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who faces an election in June, has built his career on scorning Western blandishments.

However, Iran has entered a period of political uncertainty. Until the elections, its future leadership is open and Mr Ahmadinejad's survival is by no means assured. The president has yet to declare his candidacy and some observers believe he may be prevailed upon to stand down.

America is trying to use this window to influence Iran's leaders to consider a settlement. But Iran may simply play for time, knowing that its scientists will eventually enrich enough uranium to give the regime the option of building a weapon.

Mr Miliband's address also showed the continuing tension. The Foreign Office report denounced Iran's human rights record as "dismal" and accused the regime of "clamping down rigidly on any form of dissent".

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