WASHINGTON Major powers are ready to respond if Iran comes to February 26 nuclear talks prepared to discuss "real substance" and address questions about its nuclear program, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday.
The powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - are scheduled to meet Iranian negotiators in Almaty, Kazakhstan, this month to see if there is a way to ease Western concerns about Iran's nuclear program.
The United States and its allies suspect Iran is using its civilian program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes such as generating electricity and producing medical isotopes.
"The international community is ready to respond if Iran comes prepared to talk real substance and to address the concerns, which could not be more clear, about their nuclear program," Kerry said in an opening statement at a news conference with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird.
Kerry, who replaced Hillary Clinton as secretary of state on February 1, expressed concern about Iran's recent announcement of plans to install and operate advanced uranium enrichment machines.
This technological leap would allow it to significantly speed up activity the West fears could be put to developing nuclear arms.
"It's disturbing," Kerry said. "And so my plea to the Iranians - or my statement - is a clear statement. We are prepared to let diplomacy be the victor in this confrontation over their nuclear program."
Israel, widely regarded as the only nuclear power in the Middle East, has warned it could mount a pre-emptive strike on Iranian atomic sites. Israel says the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran threatens its existence, given Tehran's refusal to recognize the Jewish state.
U.S. officials also routinely say that they take no options off the table in their dealings with Iran, diplomatic code for the possibility of a military strike.
Kerry appeared to put the accent on the possibility of a diplomatic solution that could allow Iran to continue its civilian nuclear program as long as it convinces other states that its program is not to obtain weapons.
"The president has made it clear ... he is prepared to talk about a peaceful nuclear program," Kerry said.
"Iran has a choice. They have to prove to the world that it is peaceful and we are prepared to sit reasonably and negotiate how they can do that ... . Or they can chose to be more isolated," he said.
"The president has made it clear that his preference is to have a diplomatic solution. But if he cannot get there, he is prepared to do whatever is necessary to make certain that Iran does not have a nuclear weapon," he added.
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed; Editing by David Brunnstrom and Xavier Briand)