VIENNA, Austria – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held the hard U.S. line against concessions to Iran over its nuclear program Thursday and renewed a conditional offer to talk to the clerical regime on any subject.
Iran also refused to budge ahead of talks Thursday between Iran's chief international negotiator and the European Union's senior foreign policy official.
Asked if it is time to change tactics in the world's nuclear standoff with Iran, Rice ruled out the idea of dropping a key precondition.
"I think it's time for Iran to change its tactics," Rice said.
There is increasing sentiment in Europe that world powers trying to engage Iran should drop the demand that Iran halt, or suspend in diplomatic parlance, disputed nuclear activities before bargaining on a package of incentives could begin.
"The international community is united on what Iran should do, which is to suspend; to demonstrate that it is in fact not seeking a nuclear weapon under cover of civilian nuclear power," Rice said.
She spoke during a press conference with Austria's foreign minister, a year to the day after she made a dramatic outreach to longtime adversary Iran. The offer to talk "anytime, any place," was intended to inject new life into an ebbing European diplomatic effort to turn back Iran's advancing nuclear program.
"I think the question isn't why won't we talk to Tehran. The question is why doesn't Tehran want to talk to us."
Iran did not accept Rice's offer for the first Cabinet-level direct talks in nearly three decades because of the condition to stop enriching uranium. Enriched uranium is an ingredient for both the peaceful nuclear power Iran claims it wants or for the illicit weapons program that Washington suspects.
"I repeat again that if Iran is prepared to take that course then we are prepared to change 27 years of American policy and sit with Iran to talk about whatever Iran would like to talk about," Rice said.
"But that can't be done when Iran continues to ... try to perfect technologies that are going to lead to a nuclear weapon."
Since Rice's offer, the Bush administration has embarked on a more cautious outreach to Iran. U.S. and Iranian diplomats have met twice to discuss the spiral of violence in Iraq. The United States accuses Iran of arming insurgents in next-door Iran, but Iran denies it.
The disputed nuclear issue hangs over those limited talks.
Tehran recently suggested a readiness to discuss a partial suspension of uranium enrichment, but the U.S. and key allies rejected the overture and Iran pulled back from the idea for starting talks on its nuclear program, diplomats said Wednesday
With both sides back at their hard-line stances, an exploratory meeting Thursday between Iran's chief international negotiator and the European Union's senior foreign policy official was unlikely to make substantial headway, the diplomats told The Associated Press.
In another sign of defiance, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad boasted that his country's military has become so strong that no adversary would risk an attack. "We have passed our point of vulnerability," he told Iranian state television.
Later Thursday, Rice skipped on opportunity to continue a public argument with Russia over U.S. plans to base a missile interceptor system in Europe. Speaking at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Rice did not mention Russia or the controversy that has dominated increasingly troubled U.S.-Russian relations in recent months. Rice referred to the Cold War roots of the organization, begun as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, and said its expansion to include all manner of nations proves her theory that some historical events that seem impossible one day become inevitable.
"That is for me, a great benefit and a great inspiration in a world that is in a great deal of turmoil now," Rice said.