September 12, 2009 / 5:21 PM / 10 years ago

U.S. to focus on nuclear issue in Iran talks: W.House

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - The United States will focus on Iran’s nuclear program, which the West suspects is to develop weapons, in upcoming talks with Tehran despite its refusal to discuss the subject, the White House said on Saturday.

“This may not have been a topic that they wanted to be brought up but I can assure that it’s a topic that we’ll bring up,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters on Air Force One as President Barack Obama traveled to talk about his healthcare initiative.

The United States said on Friday it would accept Iran’s offer of wide-ranging talks with major powers despite the Islamic Republic’s stated refusal to discuss its nuclear program.

Iran has repeatedly said its nuclear program is for civil energy uses, not weapons.

Gibbs welcomed Iran’s willingness to talk, but expressed disappointment that it ignored the nuclear issue and he made it clear that the subject would come up during the discussions.

“The Iranians have responsibilities to the international community to walk away from their ... ballistic nuclear weapons program,” Gibbs said. “That’s what the focus from our side will be in these talks and that’s our goal.”

Six major powers — the permanent U.N. Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, as well as Germany — offered Iran trade and diplomatic incentives in 2006 in exchange for a halt to uranium enrichment.

They improved the offer last year but retained the demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment, something Tehran has ruled out as a precondition.

Iran on Wednesday handed over a five-page proposal that offered wide-ranging talks with the West but was silent on its nuclear program.

“We think this gives us an avenue to directly address the Iranians, what we think their responsibilities are, to put pressure on them throughout the international community and strengthen our hand as we move forward,” Gibbs said.

Reporting by Matt Spetalnick; writing by Jeremy Pelofsky; editing by Mohammad Zargham

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