Monday, May 08, 2006

Iran's President Writes to Bush

Nasser Karimi,
Iran's leader has written to President Bush proposing "new solutions" to their differences in the first letter from an Iranian head of state to an American president in 27 years, a government spokesman said Monday.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki delivered the letter to the Swiss ambassador on Monday, ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told The Associated Press. The Swiss Embassy in Tehran houses a U.S. interests section.

In the letter, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proposes "new solutions for getting out of international problems and the current fragile situation of the world," spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham told a news conference.

Elham declined to reveal more, stressing "it is not an open letter." Asked whether the letter could lead to direct U.S.-Iranian negotiations, he replied: "For the time being, it's just a letter." READ MORE

Elham did not mention the nuclear dispute - the main obstacle between Washington and Tehran. The United States is leading Western efforts to pass a U.N. Security Council motion censuring Iran for refusing to cease enrichment of uranium.

It is the first time that an Iranian president has written to his U.S. counterpart since 1979, when the two countries broke off relations after Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy and held the occupants hostage for more than a year.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator also said Monday that Tehran would like to see a peaceful solution to growing tensions with the United States. Ali Larijani was in Turkey as part of efforts to rally support for Iran's nuclear program ahead of possible Security Council action.

Ahmadinejad arrives in Indonesia on Tuesday for a six-day trip to do the same.

Last week, Larijani went to the United Arab Emirates to reassure its government about Iran's nuclear program, and last month former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani made a similar visit to Kuwait.

The United States is backing efforts by Britain and France to win Security Council approval for a U.N. resolution that would threaten possible further measures if Iran does not suspend uranium enrichment - a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity or material for nuclear warheads.

The Western nations want to invoke Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter that would allow economic sanctions or military action, if necessary, to force Iran to comply with the Security Council's demand that it cease enrichment.

But Russia and China, the other two veto-holding members of the Security Council members, oppose such moves.

Iran claims its nuclear program is strictly for generating electricity and that it requires enrichment to be self-reliant in fuel for nuclear reactors. But the United States and its allies believe that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

On Sunday, Ahmadinejad renewed Iran's threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty if the Security Council imposes sanctions on Tehran.

Ahmadinejad told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that Washington and its allies "don't give us anything and yet they want to impose sanctions on us." He called the threat of sanctions "meaningless."

Elham said Monday that Iranians had endured sanctions before. "We're not concerned" about the prospect of U.N. sanctions, he added.