President Barack Obama's top spokesman says the administration's new U.N. ambassador was restating Obama's policy on Iran when she said the United States plans "direct diplomacy" with Tehran.
Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked at a news briefing about comments that Ambassador Susan Rice made earlier Monday in New York.
"The dialogue and diplomacy must go hand in hand with a very firm message from the United States and the international community that Iran needs to meet its obligations as defined by the Security Council. And its continuing refusal to do so will only cause pressure to increase," she told reporters during a brief question-and-answer session.
Her comments, reflecting Obama's signals for improved relations with America's foes after eight years under President George W. Bush, came shortly after she met with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on her first day in her new job.
Gibbs told reporters at the White House he believes what Rice did "was simply to restate the message" that the administration is "going to use all elements of our national power" to address concerns about Iran's nuclear program.
Iran still considers the U.S. the "Great Satan," but a day after Obama was sworn in, it said it was "ready for new approaches by the United States." Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said his country would study the idea of allowing the U.S. to open a diplomatic office in Tehran, the first since 1979.
Rice said the U.S. remains "deeply concerned about the threat that Iran's nuclear program poses to the region, indeed to the United States and the entire international community."
"We look forward to engaging in vigorous diplomacy that includes direct diplomacy with Iran," she said. It would include "continued collaboration and partnership" with the other four permanent members of the Security Council — Britain, China, France and Russia — along with Germany, Rice said.
"And we will look at what is necessary and appropriate with respect to maintaining pressure toward that goal of ending Iran's nuclear program," she said.
In recent years, Iranian and American officials have negotiated in the same room on talks about Afghanistan that involved other countries' diplomats. They also talked face to face in Baghdad but the agenda was limited to Iraqi security.
Gibbs also said that Obama on Monday had phone conversations with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.