November 21, 2008 / 7:13 PM / 11 years ago

EU's Solana says Obama team must engage Iran more

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who leads nuclear negotiations with Iran on behalf of major powers, said on Friday he hoped an Obama administration would be more engaged in the talks.

Democratic President-elect Barack Obama has made clear he plans a new approach to dealing with Iran and its nuclear program, including direct talks if needed, a break from the Republican Bush administration’s usual isolation strategy.

Solana has been the main emissary for the six powers dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. They are the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — France, Britain, Russia, China and the United States — and Germany.

“We would like very much to see the United States more engaged,” Solana told reporters in Washington when asked what he hoped from the incoming administration’s Iran policy.

Solana said he also hoped the new administration would have a strong early focus on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and on climate change and other key transatlantic issues.

The Bush administration broke from its usual total isolation policy of Iran in July and sent senior diplomat Bill Burns to join nuclear talks with Iran. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made clear this was a one-off decision.

Solana said he hoped the United States would in the future take part “fully” in the so-called P5+1 efforts to get Iran to curb its nuclear program, which the West says is aimed at building a nuclear bomb and Tehran says is for generating electricity.

“I think it is important that the administration gets engaged. I think it should be in this format (P5+1), but it does not prevent bilateral contacts from taking place” between Iranian and U.S. officials, Solana said.

TALK TO AHMADINEJAD?

Another senior European diplomat, who asked not to be named, suggested there should be no high-level contacts between the United States and Iran until after the election next year as this could give a boost to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“As there is a presidential election in June 2009, it would be paradoxical to give Ahmadinejad a victory,” he said.

“There are some who think they (the Americans and the Iranians) should negotiate immediately ... we would prefer the more prudent approach,” said the diplomat.

The diplomat did not believe Tehran’s leaders had made a decision over talks with the United States but Solana said from his meetings with the Iranians he believed they wanted to engage Washington.

Solana cited the example of Burns’ meeting in July and also a month earlier when Rice for the first time signed a letter that accompanied an offer to Iran of trade and other incentives if it gave up sensitive nuclear work.

“It was the first time that had happened and it was an important element for them,” he said of Rice signing the letter.

The top EU diplomat said he had no plans in the near future to have talks with the Iranians but one of his deputies might meet with his counterpart later this month.

“It will not be a big event. Thereafter we will see how things evolve,” Solana said.

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