The press is heralding Condoleezza Rice's offer of direct talks with Iran as a signal of a new, more moderate, US approach to the standoff between the two nations, but there is little in her words to suggest any real change in Bush administration policy. What Rice actually said was: "[A]s soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table."
The Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottak on state television responded by saying that Iran "will not give up our nation's natural right [to enrichment], we will not hold talks over it. But we are ready to hold talks over mutual concerns." The BBC reports he also said, that if the US "is interested in any change in the existing situation, it should change its behaviour and behave properly and logically".
In the United States, Rice's statement has been hyped as a major new overture to Iran. Bush said, "I believe this problem can be solved diplomatically and I'm going to give it every effort to do so."
Yet at the same time, the US is readying a set of tough demands, including sanctions that would affect the world oil markets It hopes Europe will embrace these sanctions in future dealings with Iran if the latter doesn't abandon its plans for nuclear development.
Iran says it wants nuclear energy for power. The US says it wants to make bombs. The standard neo-conservative line on Iran has not changed. It argues there must be regime change, forced by military intervention if need be. According to this view, diplomacy is little more than a PR maneuver to demonstrate to the rest of the world that we have tried as hard as we could to negotiate with Iran, but failed. The same approach, of course, was used in the run-up to the Iraq war.