Is the Obama administration prepared to hold direct talks with Iran?
That's a possibility Vice President Joe Biden raised during a security conference in Munich on Saturday – lending his support to bilateral contacts many in the international community think would help ease tensions over Iran's disputed nuclear program.
Biden reiterated that the White House had imposed the "most robust sanctions in history" to pressure the regime into dropping its alleged plan to build a nuclear weapon.
"But we have also made clear that Iran's leaders need not sentence their people to economic deprivation and international isolation," Biden said. "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."
Asked whether the United States would consider direct talks with Iran, Biden said it was a possibility "when the Iranian leadership, Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], is serious" about such discussions.
"We have made it clear at the outset that 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 are prepared to speak to. We are not just prepared to do it for the exercise."
International observers say that direct talks may be the only way to stave off a feared Israeli attack on Iranian uranium enrichment facilities that could destabilize the entire region. According to German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, 2013 will likely be a decisive year for Iran.
"We had elections in the United States and Israel, we will have elections in June in Iran; we see increasing capabilities especially with the issue of enrichment — let us be very frank, we did not have progress in the last 12 months, so it is obvious that we have to use this year."
"If we want to reach this goal, it would be wrong to discuss all these military options and possibilities. It is now important to focus our whole attention, all our effort for a diplomatic and political solution."