Saturday, December 03, 2005

Bush permits talks with Iran over border security crisis

Philip Sherwell, The Telegraph UK:
President George W Bush has authorised his ambassador in Baghdad to talk to Iranian officials about the security crisis in Iraq in a move which suggests that America is adopting a less confrontational approach towards its old enemy.

Although America has not had diplomatic relations with the clerical regime since the United States embassy in Teheran was stormed in 1979, Zalmany Khalilzad has been given permission to talk to his Iranian counterparts about the Iraqi insurgency and border security.

Iran is widely blamed for destabilising Iraq by backing fellow Shia armed factions and allowing weapons and fighters to cross its border. Britain believes that bombs being used to kill British soldiers are made in Iran.

Iraq factfile

The American initiative, a further indication that the secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's more moderate diplomacy has replaced the hardline foreign policy of Mr Bush's first term, follows another recent shift of tactics towards Iran.

For the first time, America is offering active support to European and Russian officials in their efforts to end the deadlock with Iran over its nuclear programme, after previously adopting a hands-off approach - to the alarm of prominent neo-conservatives who back regime change in Iran.

They believe that given Iran's track record of duplicity in international negotiations, talks will be futile and interpreted as a sign of American weakness.

Their fears will have been bolstered by the response in Iran. Sadegh Zibakalam, a pro-regime political analyst, said that the move reflected the Bush administration's problems and showed that America was unable to establish security and stability in Iraq.

Iran factfile

"It's hard to imagine what President Bush expects to gain from talks with the Iranians," said Michael Ledeen, an Iran expert at the American Enterprise Institute, a leading conservative think-tank.

"The Islamic republic will never do anything to help us, our soldiers, or our allies. The Iranians themselves have no doubt of their role in the world: they see themselves as our gravediggers." READ MORE

• A Briton of Iraqi origin sent by Muslim and anti-war groups to help to negotiate the release of four peace activists taken hostage in Baghdad began yesterday to try to make contact with the kidnappers.

Anas Altikriti was dispatched as the group holding Norman Kember, 74, of London, two Canadians and an American threatened to execute them by Thursday.