Monday, April 24, 2006

Bush Adviser Dismisses Call for Talks with Iran

Daniel Dombey, The Financial Times:
One of the US government's top advisers has rebuffed European calls for Washington to negotiate directly with Iran over Tehran's nuclear programme.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Philip Zelikow, counsellor at the US State Department, also said the Bush administration's commitment to the democratisation of the Middle East was undimmed, despite the recent victory of Hamas, the militant Islamist group, in Palestinian legislative elections.

"The US position has been that at this time we don't see value in having direct talks with the Iranians about, say, the nuclear issue," he said, rejecting calls for such negotiations from Frank-Walter Steinmeier, German foreign minister, and other senior diplomats in Europe. Mr Zelikow, who has played an important role in framing US strategy as an adviser to Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, also brushed aside European suggestions that a long-term understanding with Tehran might involve a promise from the US that it has no intention of attacking Iran.

"The fallacy in a lot of the arguments about security assurances . . . is the assumption that the agenda of the current government in Iran is fundamentally entirely defensive," he said. READ MORE

"Unfortunately, we're engaged in a process with a regime that is dictatorial in its practices and revolutionary in its aims, with an agenda for destabilising neighbours and the broader Middle East."

However, he played down the prospect of US military action against Iran, even though President George W. Bush has repeatedly said that all options are on the table.

"When we say all options are on the table, that includes diplomatic options too," Mr Zelikow said. "Let's try diplomacy first. Let's give it a chance. And then we can judge whether or not it's effective and take the conversation from there."

Mr Zelikow also indicated that the US would not object to more European Union funding for social services for the Palestinians in the wake of the EU's decision to suspend direct aid to the Palestinian Authority.

Iran yesterday maintained its position that it would not abandon work on uranium enrichment. "Iran's uranium enrichment and nuclear research and development activities are irreversible," Hamid Reza Asefi, foreign ministry spokesman, told a weekly news conference.