June 27, 2006

US brushes off Iran pessimism on talks

By Caren Bohan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House on Tuesday said it
did not view skepticism from Iran's supreme leader as the final
word on a U.S. offer to join direct talks with Iran if it
agrees to halt sensitive nuclear activity.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted on Iranian
state television as saying that Iran would not benefit from
discussions with the United States.

"The comments are ambiguous," White House spokesman Tony
Snow said.

Washington's offer to participate in the European Union's
talks with Iran was part of a package aimed at persuading the
country to stop nuclear enrichment work. That offer was seen as
a major policy change for the United States, which has not had
diplomatic ties with Tehran since 1980.

Snow said the Bush administration expects the official
reaction to be delivered to the United States through EU
foreign policy chief Javier Solana from Iran's chief nuclear
negotiator, Ali Larijani.

"The position has always been the same, which is when Mr.
Larijani communicates with Javier Solana, that is how we expect
to have an answer to the proposal," Snow said. He added that
there is a pattern of "differing voices coming out of Iran."

"We're going to let different factions within the Iranian
government publicly and privately figure out how they're going
to respond," Snow said. "We expect a formal response to come
through the channel by which it was transmitted originally."

If Iran rejects the package offered by the six powers --
the United States, France, Russia, China, Britain and Germany,
it could face U.N. Security Council sanctions.

The United States and some of its Western allies suspect
Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear bomb. But Iran says it is
pursuing atomic technology for peaceful purposes of providing

Tehran has said it would respond to the international
package by August 22.

State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said, however, that
Iran has weeks, not months to reply.

"There is a good and positive offer on the table. We think
that it is time for Iran to respond positively to that offer,"
Ereli said.

(Additional reporting by Sue Pleming)