Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Bush Dismisses Iranian Offer of Negotiations as Meaningless Ploy

Benny Avni, The New York Sun:
Bush administration officials quickly dismissed an Iranian attempt to start negotiations with America before foreign ministers of the top world powers met in New York last night to discuss the Mullah's failure to comply by their demands.

The Iranian negotiation offer came in a form of an 18-page letter to President Bush from President Ahmadinejad that was leaked to Tehran-based news agencies yesterday before it made its way to the White House.

Secretary of State Rice, who last night had a working dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria with foreign ministers from Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany, said the letter "isn't addressing the issues that we're dealing with in a concrete way."

Iranian state radio, quoting Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi, said the letter was delivered to the Swiss embassy in Teheran yesterday, which represents American interests.

The American ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said he was not surprised. "The Iranians are always interested in talking right before somebody puts the squeeze in them," he told reporters yesterday. "Once the squeeze lets up a little bit, back they go to enrichment, back they go to perfecting their conversion technology, back they go to the pursuit of nuclear weapons."

The White House was as dismissive. "It doesn't appear to do anything to address the concerns of the international community," outgoing spokesman Scott McClellan said.

The Ahmadinejad letter came after a weekend in which diplomats from Britain and France, with backing by America, were unable to convince their Russian and Chinese colleagues to agree on a Security Council resolution that would make the request for Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program "mandatory."

Washington had hoped to pass the resolution prior to last night's dinner. "The five ambassadors are down in the engine room working on this draft text while the ministers are up there on the bridge," Mr. Bolton said. Even if the engine room fails to reach consensus, he told The New York Sun, the council would soon take a vote.

"We're not going to drop it," he said, adding that if Russia and China fail to agree, a vote might be forced before the end of the week. Everybody wants "to keep unity at the council," he said. But "not unity that takes an indefinite period of time." READ MORE

A Security Council resolution proposal, circulated to the 15 members last week by France and Britain, also representing Germany, opens the way to enforcement measures - including possibly future economic sanctions and military action - to force Iran to drop the enrichment program.

Iran has said that it would not abide by any resolution that would infringe on its "right" to develop an atomic program for peaceful means. "I do not believe that this issue belongs to the Security Council," Tehran's U.N. ambassador, Javad Zarif, told the Sun yesterday.

The news of possible renewed talks between Washington and Tehran ignited the imagination of Turtle Bay diplomats who believe that negotiations with the mullah regime would settle the nuclear dispute. Some said that the council's pressure will only achieve results if it leads to renewed negotiations.

"What we are striving for is a negotiated solution in the diplomatic field," the German ambassador to the United Nations, Gunter Pleuger, told the Sun. "And for that we need some pressure by the Security Council in order to get the negotiations going again."

China and Russia have resisted enacting a resolution under the most muscular provision of the U.N. Charter, known as Chapter 7, arguing it would lead to too much confrontation. Nevertheless, China's ambassador to the United Nations, Wang Guangya, admitted that Iran's intransigence has warranted some kind of a council resolution.

"I believe it is time, since the Iranians have not cooperated, have not complied, have not responded positively," he said. "But I think that the resolution has to be appropriate."

Mr. Pleuger, who had served as his country's U.N. envoy when Germany led the opposition to Washington at the council prior to the 2003 Iraq war, was cautious when asked to describe the different approaches among council members in the current dispute.

"The question is, what we want: Do we want to show unity of the international community and facilitate a negotiated result?" he said. "Then I think we need some flexibility in order to maintain the unity of the Security Council."

The other "extreme," he said, "is to put maximum pressure on Iran. Then you might take a resolution, but not unanimously."

[Also yesterday, Prime Minister Blair said that any consideration of a nuclear attack against Iran would be "absolutely absurd," and said the issue had no bearing on his decision to demote his foreign secretary.

A former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, had described alleged American contingency plans for a tactical nuclear strike against Iran as "completely nuts."

Mr. Blair previously had avoided any condemnation of the idea and defended the right of President Bush to hold all options in reserve in the showdown over Iran's nuclear program.

Some analysts believed that differences over Iran led to Mr. Blair's decision on Friday to move Mr. Straw to the less-exalted position of leader of the House of Commons.]