On February 2, Vice President Joe Biden said the United States is prepared to hold direct talks with Iran to resolve tensions over its controversial nuclear program. Biden said there is still time for diplomacy, either through the current format involving the world’s six major powers or potentially one-on-one with the United States. But direct talks would have to be “real and tangible” and not merely “for the exercise,” the vice president told an international security summit. The following are excerpts from Biden’s remarks at the Munich Security Conference.
Four years ago, Iran had succeeded in dividing the international community over how to address the illicit and destabilizing nuclear program they had underway. We needed to change that dynamic by giving Iran the opportunity to make clear its intentions to the world. As I told the conference then, and I quote: “We will be willing to talk to Iran and offer a very clear choice: Continue down the course and there will be continued pressure and isolation; abandon the illicit nuclear program and your support for terrorism, there will be meaningful incentives.”
We were criticized at the time for suggesting we would engage Iran along those lines. Well, we all know what path Iran has chosen. And so the international community came together, and the United States, the European Union and the United Nations imposed what Iran -- the Iranian leaders are acknowledging to be the most robust sanctions in history. As President Obama has made clear to Iranian leaders, our policy is not containment -- it is not containment. It is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. But we’ve also made clear that Iran’s leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation and international isolation.
There is still time, there is still space for diplomacy, backed by pressure, to succeed. The ball is in the government of Iran’s court, and it’s well past time for Tehran to adopt a serious, good-faith approach to negotiations with the P5-plus-1.
QUESTION: Many argue that the time for direct U.S.-Iranian negotiations has come. When is that going to happen, and if not, why not?
BIDEN: When the Iranian leadership, Supreme Leader, is serious. We have made it clear at the outset that we would not -- we would be prepared to meet bilaterally with the Iranian leadership. We would not make it a secret that we were doing that. We would let our partners know if that occasion presented itself. That offer stands, but it must be real and tangible, and there has to be an agenda that they’re prepared to speak to. We are not just prepared to do it for the exercise.