Saturday, August 05, 2006

US Lawmaker Pursues Dialogue with Iran

TradeArabia News Service:
Even as US President George W Bush's administration avoids contacts with Iran, a lone Democratic congressman is cultivating his own dialogue with the Islamic state. Rep Tom Lantos, an influential lawmaker who could end up running the International Relations Committee if Democrats retake the US House of Representatives in November, said he has met Iran's UN ambassador Javad Zarif at the envoy's New York home twice in 2006 -- once for dinner and once for lunch.

The meetings were initiated by Lantos of California, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust. He also had contacts with Iran's UN mission in 2005. READ MORE

Lantos said he also has visited Syria on "fairly regular basis" over the years, meeting both President Bashir al-Assad and his late father.

Since the fighting between Iranian-backed Hizbollah Islamic militants and Israel broke out three weeks ago, some experts have predicted a resolution of the crisis will ultimately have to involve Iran and Syria, something the Bush administration so far has rejected.

The United States has accused both governments of sponsoring state terrorism. It broke diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980 and while there are formal US ties with Syria, the Bush administration increasingly has tried to isolate Damascus.

Lantos told Reuters in a recent interview that with help from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, he has also been trying to get a visa to visit Tehran but so far "the Iranians seem totally disinterested."

The Bush administration in June offered to join European allies in proposing incentives and offering to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear program if Tehran halted its uranium enrichment activities. But Iranian officials so far have rejected that idea.

Lantos spokeswoman Lynne Weil said the administration has "neither encouraged nor discouraged" his outreach to Tehran.

If he did go to Tehran, Lantos said, his message would be that Iran has a much greater interest in fostering productive relations with the United States and the rest of world than in having access to nuclear weapons technology.

The United States and its allies suspect Iran is developing a nuclear bomb and accuse it of hiding its research for the past 18 years. Tehran denies the charge.