WASHINGTON - The United States and five partner countries have accepted Iran's new offer to hold talks, even though Iran insists it will not negotiate over its disputed nuclear program, the State Department said Friday.
Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters that although Iran's proposal for international talks - presented to the six nations on Wednesday - was disappointing for sidestepping the nuclear issue, it represented a chance to begin a direct dialogue.
"We are seeking a meeting now based on the Iranian paper to see what Iran is prepared to do," Crowley said. "And then, as the president has said, you know, if Iran responds to our interest in a meeting, we'll see when that can occur. We hope that will occur as soon as possible."
Such a meeting could lessen immediate pressure on President Barack Obama to abandon his diplomatic outreach to Tehran, which has yet to yield concrete results. Obama said in July that Iran should show a willingness to negotiate limits on its nuclear program by September or face consequences.
Crowley stressed that the United States and its negotiating partners agree they must keep pressure on Iran while also seeking talks.
In its proposal, Iran ignored a demand by the six world powers - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - for a freeze of its uranium enrichment, which is suspected of leading to production of a nuclear weapon. Iran insists that its nuclear work is strictly for peaceful nonmilitary purposes.
Iran pronounced itself ready to "embark on comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations."
On Monday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country will neither halt uranium enrichment nor negotiate over its nuclear rights but is ready to sit and talk with world powers over "global challenges."
Crowley said Iran's lack of interest in addressing its nuclear program is not a reason to refuse to talk.
"If we have talks, we will plan to bring up the nuclear issue," he said.
The decision to take up Iran's offer was communicated publicly Friday in Brussels by Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, an intermediary for the six powers. They represent the permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany.
U.N. RESOLUTION: The United States is circulating a draft U.N. resolution for stepped up efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation. While the lengthy draft circulated Friday does not mention any country by name, it reaffirms Security Council resolutions that imposed sanctions on Iran and North Korea.