U.S. Is Debating Talks With Iran on Nuclear Issue


Richard Moore

What a strange article. If the US agrees to talk with Iran, we are 
expected to take that as a sign that Washington has "gone the extra 
mile" to avoid a confrontation. In fact, the record clearly shows 
that the US has been going the extra mile to provoke a confrontation. 
If one wants to resolve a dispute, the way to do it is through 
dialog. The US, however, routinely refuses to talk with those with 
whom it has disputes, as with Serbia, Iraq, etc. etc. This is bully 
behavior: "Do it my way or no way, and we're not going to discuss the 
matter."  Extra mile indeed.


Original source URL:

May 27, 2006

U.S. Is Debating Talks With Iran on Nuclear Issue

WASHINGTON, May 26 - The Bush administration is beginning to debate 
whether to set aside a longstanding policy taboo and open direct 
talks with Iran, to help avert a crisis over Tehran's suspected 
nuclear weapons program, European officials and Americans close to 
the administration said Friday.

European officials who have been in contact with the administration 
in recent weeks said the discussion was heating up, as Secretary of 
State Condoleezza Rice worked with European foreign ministers to 
persuade Iran to suspend its efforts to enrich uranium.

European leaders make no secret of their desire for the United States 
to join in the talks with Iran, if only to show that the Americans 
have gone the extra mile to avoid a confrontation that could spiral 
into a fight over sanctions or even military action.

But since the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the crisis over the 
seizure of American hostages in November that year, the United States 
has avoided direct talks with Iran. There were sporadic contacts 
during the war in Afghanistan, in the early stages of the Iraq war 
and in the days after the earthquake in Bam, Iran, at the end of 2003.

European officials say Ms. Rice has begun discussing the issue with 
top aides at the State Department. Her belief, they say, is that 
ultimately the matter will have to be addressed by the 
administration's national security officials, whether talks with Iran 
remain at an impasse or even if there is some progress.

But others who know her well say she is resisting on the ground that 
signaling a willingness to talk would show weakness and disrupt the 
delicate negotiations with Europe. Ms. Rice is also said to fear that 
the administration might end up making too many concessions to Iran.

Administration officials said President Bush, Vice President Dick 
Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have opposed direct 
talks, even through informal back channels. As a result, many 
European officials say they doubt that a decision to talk is likely 

The prospect of direct talks between the United States and Iran is so 
politically delicate within the Bush administration that the 
officials who described the emerging debate would discuss it only 
after being granted anonymity.

Those officials included representatives of several European 
countries, as well as Americans who said they had discussed the issue 
recently with people inside the Bush administration. Some of the 
officials made clear that they favored direct talks between the 
United States and Iran.

State Department officials refused to talk about the issue, even 
anonymously. But over the last week, administration spokesmen have 
been careful not to rule out talks.

Discussion about possible American contacts with Iran has been fueled 
not simply by the Europeans, but by a growing chorus of outsiders 
with ties to the administration who have spoken out in favor of talks.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, in a recent column in The 
Washington Post, raised the possibility that the recent rambling 
letter from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to President Bush - 
dismissed by Ms. Rice as an offensive tirade- could be seen as an 
opportunity to open contacts.

Both Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations 
and a former top aide to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, and 
Richard L. Armitage, the former deputy secretary of state under Mr. 
Powell, have also advocated talks with Iran.

"Diplomacy is much more than just talking to your friends," Mr. 
Armitage said in a telephone interview. "You've got to talk to people 
who aren't our friends, and even people you dislike. Some people in 
the administration think that diplomacy is a sign of weakness. In 
fact, it can show that you're strong."

Mr. Armitage held the last high-level discussions with Iran, after 
the Bam earthquake. In November 2004, Mr. Powell sat next to the 
Iranian foreign minister at a dinner during a conference in Egypt on 
Iraq, but he said they engaged only in small talk.

The United States has stayed out of the talks with Iran, which began 
in late 2004 and got new life last summer when, with American 
endorsement, the Europeans offered to help Iran integrate politically 
and economically with the West if it ended its nuclear ambitions.

Also on the table were unspecified security guarantees suggesting 
that Iran would not have to worry about outside efforts to topple the 

The Europeans are now working with the United States, Russia and 
China on a revised package of economic, political and nuclear energy 
incentives if Iran ended its nuclear enrichment activities. Also 
being sought, at least by the Europeans and the United States, is an 
agreement to take Iran to the United Nations Security Council if it 
continues to defy the demands for compliance on nuclear issues.

European officials say the discussions about possible 
American-Iranian contacts are not part of these talks, but would be a 
way to improve the atmosphere with Iran.

Among the European diplomats who have urged Ms. Rice to consider 
direct contacts with Iran are Germany's foreign minister, 
Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and the European Union's foreign policy 
chief, Javier Solana. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, raised 
the issue with President Bush when she visited Washington earlier 
this year.

"What's interesting about Rice is that she listens when you make your 
case," a European official said.

Another European diplomat said, "It's a European aspiration for talks 
to happen," but added, "Nothing is likely at the moment." Still 
another European diplomat said of the Americans that "everyone and 
their brother has been telling them to do it."

One reason senior administration officials do not like the idea of 
talking with Iran, many of them say, is that they are not certain 
Iranian leaders would respond positively. A rebuff from Iran, even to 
a back-channel query, is to be avoided at all costs, various 
officials agree.

The administration, for example, has been embarrassed by the 
on-again, off-again possibility of talks with Iran on Iraq, which 
were authorized by Ms. Rice late last year.

The concern, some say, is that talking to Iran only about Iraq will 
anger Sunni dissidents in Iraq, reinforcing the Sunni-led insurgency 
while enhancing the status of Iraqi Shiites, whose strong ties to 
Iran make Washington uneasy.

On the other hand, the American ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, 
was said to be eager to enlist Iran in helping to deal with 
Iranian-backed Shiite militias, which are accused of carrying out 
killings and kidnappings of Sunnis in Iraq.

Some Europeans favor American participation in the European-Iranian 
talks, at least down the road. Others raise the possibility of 
informal contacts through nongovernmental organizations or policy 

Incentives and possible sanctions against Iran are to be the focus of 
negotiations between the United States and the European nations in 
coming days and weeks.

The United States is resisting the Europeans' desire to increase 
economic incentives for Iran, because that would involve a lifting of 
American sanctions on European businesses that helped Iran. At the 
same time, Russia and China are resisting the idea of seeking a new 
resolution at the United Nations Security Council that could be seen 
as clearing the way for sanctions or possible military action against 

David E. Sanger contributed reporting for this article.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

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