U.S. sees participation in Iran talks as “smart step”

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Wednesday it was sending an envoy to join nuclear talks with Iran to signal to Tehran and others that Washington wanted a diplomatic solution to the impasse.

But the Bush administration said it was not changing its stance that it will join full-blown negotiations with Iran only if Tehran first halts sensitive uranium enrichment work.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saw it as a “smart step” to depart from usual policy and send senior diplomat William Burns to Geneva on Saturday for talks with Iran along with other major powers, said Rice’s spokesman Sean McCormack.

“It sends a strong signal to the world and it sends a strong signal to the Iranian government that the United States is committed to diplomacy,” McCormack told reporters.

Tensions with Iran have intensified, particularly after Tehran tested missiles last week, pushing up oil prices, rattling Israeli nerves and prompting Washington to say it would defend its allies against any possible attacks.

The White House stressed that despite sending Burns to Geneva, Washington would join full-blown negotiations only if Tehran gave up the uranium enrichment the West suspects is aimed at developing a nuclear weapon.

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