WASHINGTON – The Bush administration is not considering talks with Iran (search) on developing nuclear weapons even though Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) will attend a conference next week with diplomats from Iran and other countries.
Already suspicious that Iran is developing such weapons, the administration now has intelligence provided by a resistance group that Iran is trying to adapt missiles to deliver the weapons, Powell said Wednesday.
"I have seen some information that would agree that they have been actively working on delivery systems," Powell said en route to an Asia-Pacific economic summit meeting in Chile (search).
Powell plans to attend a conference on Iraq on Monday and Tuesday at Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik. Representatives from Iran are expected, too.
A State Department spokesman, Adam Ereli, was asked about the possibility that Powell would raise his concerns directly with Iranian diplomats. "This is a purely speculative question," Ereli said Thursday. "I am not aware that that possibility is being considered."
Joseph Cirincione, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said "many people assumed this was the perfect opportunity for Secretary Powell to informally negotiate with the Iranians."
Britain, France and Germany have struck a deal with Iran that is designed to stop the nuclear enrichment program. If the United States does not join in the agreement, "the deal is dead," he said. "Only the U.S. can give Iran the security guarantees it needs," Cirincione said.
The deal is supposed to take effect Monday.
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the private Arms Control Association, said the administration must decide whether "it will further complicate or complement" the European Union's effort. "By failing to engage in a dialogue with Iran, the administration is missing a strategic opportunity to exploit the EU-Iran opening."
Anthony Cordesman, a defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he did not believe the United States thinks it can stop a covert nuclear weapons program by Iran.
He noted that Powell, who is leaving the administration, is a lame duck. "He cannot speak for the president" if he were to meet with the Iranians in Egypt, Cordesman said, and Iran "must perceive him as distant from the president on this and other issues."
White House spokesman Scott McClellan renewed demands that Iran stop enriching uranium, a key ingredient of nuclear weapons production. "They have spent quite a bit of time over the years hiding their program and their intentions," he said.
The United States intends to take the nuclear issue to the U.N. Security Council after the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency meets Nov. 25.
It is unclear whether the United States can win approval for economic and diplomatic penalties against Iran.
"We have seen this thing before," Ereli said. "They (the Iranians) have had a deal with the European Union to suspend enrichment. They broke it."