Vice-president tells Munich conference that US can talk to Tehran over alleged nuclear programme if Iran gets serious
The United States is prepared to hold direct talks with Iran amid the standoff over its nuclear ambitions, the US vice-president, Joe Biden, has said.
Speaking at the Munich security conference on Saturday, Biden said: “There is still time, there is still space for diplomacy backed by pressure to succeed.”
He insisted that “the ball is in the government of Iran’s court” to show that it is negotiating in good faith.
Asked when Washington would hold direct talks with Tehran, Biden replied: “When the Iranian leadership, the supreme leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], is serious.”
Last month, Iran announced plans to dramatically increase its pace of uranium enrichment, which can be used to make both reactor fuel and the fissile core of warheads.
Iran insists it does not want nuclear arms and argues it has a right to enrich uranium for a civilian nuclear power programme, but suspicions persist that the real aim is to develop nuclear weapons. The country’s nuclear programme remained secret until it was exposed more than a decade ago.
Iran also unveiled its latest combat jet on Saturday, a domestically manufactured fighter-bomber that military officials claim can evade radar. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a ceremony broadcast on state TV that building the Qaher-313, or Dominant-313, highlights Iran’s will to “conquer scientific peaks”.
The Qaher is one of several aircraft designs produced by the Iranian military since 2007. The Islamic republic launched a self-sufficiency military programme in the 1980s to compensate for a western weapons embargo that banned the export of military technology and equipment to Iran. Since 1992, Iran has produced its own tanks, armoured personnel carriers, missiles, torpedoes, drones and fighter planes.
Russia and the US have moved closer to agreeing a strategy over Iran’s nuclear programme, butthe two countries remain dividied as to how to tackle the crisis in Syria.
Biden told the conference: “President Assad, a tyrant hellbent on clinging to power, is no longer fit to lead the Syrian people and he must go.”
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, branded Biden’s statement as counterproductive. “The persistence of those who say that priority number one is the removal of President Assad, I think it’s the single biggest reason for the continued tragedy in Syria.”