The United States is ready to "test" Iran's willingness to engage in talks, even though an Iranian proposal for a comprehensive dialogue with the U.S. and other major powers did not address the Obama administration's concern about Tehran's nuclear program.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Friday that the major powers will "seek an early meeting" with Iran to attempt to steer talks toward the nuclear issue.
"If we have talks, we will plan to bring up the nuclear issue," he said.
The decision to accept Iran's offer was communicated publicly Friday in Brussels by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
Iran handed over a diplomatic proposal to world powers earlier this week. In the document, Tehran said it is ready to "embark on comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations." But the proposal does not refer to nuclear concessions sought by the U.S., China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.
The president of the National Iranian American Council, Trita Parsi, described the Iranian proposal — first published on the news Web site ProPublica — as Iran's "opening bid."
The document raises issues ranging from Afghanistan to the global financial crisis and the need to promote "the universality of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty." But Iranian leaders have said they will not discuss the country's nuclear program.
"It does provide an opportunity to be able to move forward with a conversation about [nuclear] inspections, verification and transparency," Parsi said. "At the end of the day, as one European diplomat told me, it doesn't matter that much what is in that proposal; what matters [is] if any diplomacy will begin."
Geoffrey Kemp, director of regional strategic programs at the Nixon Center, says the Obama administration faces the risk that if it agrees to negotiations, "the agenda is so huge that the talks will go on forever and meanwhile the clock is ticking on their nuclear program."
Kemp said the Iranian document was so broad, "it's the sort of document, quite frankly, that idealistic students in American universities write in essays when applying for graduate school." He said it is "full of 'peace on earth' utterances" that are difficult to dispute.
Among other issues listed in the Iranian proposal, it includes "putting into action real and fundamental programs toward complete disarmament and preventing development and proliferation of nuclear, chemical" and biological weapons.
Another section of the document interested both Kemp and Parsi. The document says that Iran is "ready to enter into this dialogue on the basis of godly and human principles and values, including the right of people to have free elections."
Kemp says the U.S. would "be able to hoist them with their own petard" on this issue, given the disputed presidential elections in Iran this summer.
"But that gets us off into another area, where we are not addressing the nuclear issue," he said.