US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Wednesday she believed the nuclear stand-off with Iran could be resolved diplomatically and offered the prospect of normal ties with Tehran if it gave up sensitive nuclear work.
Just one day after getting agreement on a draft UN Security Council resolution against Tehran, Rice held out the incentive of a "more normal relationship" and expanded trade if Iran gave up its nuclear enrichment work.
"Ultimately, though, we believe that we can resolve this problem through diplomacy," Rice said in her speech to the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
"If Iran would suspend its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities - which is an international demand, not just an American one - then we could begin negotiations, and we could work over time to build a new, more normal relationship," she said.
Rice said this new relationship could be defined not by fear and mistrust but growing cooperation, expanding trade and the peaceful resolution of differences.
A similar offer was made in 2006 and Rice has often said she would be prepared to meet any time, any place with the Iranians to discuss any subject as long as they gave up nuclear work, which the West believes is aimed at building an atomic bomb. Iran says it is for peaceful power generation.
'We respect contribution Iranians have made to world civilization'
In a conciliatory note after weeks of anti-Iranian rhetoric by the Bush administration, Rice said the United States had no desire for Iran to be a "permanent enemy."
"Iranians are a proud people with a great culture, and we respect the contributions they have made to world civilization," she said.
But she said Washington had real differences with Iran's government, referring to what the US sees as Tehran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon, support for terrorism and destabilizing policies in Iraq.
Rice said that agreement reached between foreign ministers of major powers in Berlin on Tuesday for a third sanctions resolution showed the world remained united over not wanting Iran to become a nuclear weapons power.
"We will continue to hold Iran to its international obligations," said Rice .
In terms of improving relations with Iran, Rice cited the case of former foe Libya.
"As Libya has chosen to reject terrorism, to renounce its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and to rejoin the international community, the United States has reached out, and today, though we still have our differences, we have nothing to fear from each other," she said.
She also referred to improving ties with North Korea, which is currently disabling its Yongbyon nuclear facility, but failed to meet a year-end deadline to give a full accounting of its nuclear activities.
"Still, we continue to believe that we can use the Six Party Talks for even larger purposes - to finally end the conflict on the Korean Peninsula," she said, referring to the six nations handling the North Korean nuclear dossier.