Home > 2003-2007 from USA, Iran, US foreign policy, USA > US rejects Iran’s offer for talks on nuclear programme

US rejects Iran’s offer for talks on nuclear programme

July 14, 2003

by GUY DINMORE in Washington July 14, 2003

Iran has communicated to the US its readiness to open direct talks about its nuclear programme as a first step towards tackling other issues, such as terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but US officials say the Bush administration is keeping the door closed.

Tehran’s overtures have been conducted mainly through Mohammad Javad Zarif, its ambassador to the United Nations in New York, in discussions with Americans in close contact with the Bush administration, including at least one former senior official.

That Iran’s leadership was ready to open a dialogue with the US was also conveyed by Tim Guldimann, the Swiss ambassador to Tehran, in arecent visit to Washington. Switzerland represents US interests inIran.

But although the US is seeking a dialogue with North Korea, a member of President George W. Bush’s “axis of evil”, and is engaged in talks with other “rogue states”, such as Libya and Syria, US officials saythere is little appetite for negotiations with Iran.

“We are not reaching out at this point,” said a State Department official, adding that the matter was still under review.

Within the Bush administration some officials advocate “regime change” as its Iran policy, while a minority proposes engagement. But the prevailing view is that the US has been effective in working with the European Union and Japan to put economic pressure on Iran.

How soon Iran can develop nuclear weapons is a question that troubles the US intelligence community. Some officials in Washington think that could take several years. But Daniel Ayalon, Israeli ambassador to Washington, says Israel has shortened its estimate.

“The point of no return – where they are on the verge or on the way to get nuclear capabilities – is much, much smaller now, could be even a matter of a year or so,” he told NBC television last week.

Iran insists its comprehensive nuclear programme is for civilian purposes only, but it has refused to sign an agreement with the
International Atomic Energy Agency that would open up all its facilities for inspection.

Mr Zarif has indicated that Tehran would be willing to sign in exchange for certain guarantees from the US.

The power struggle among Iran’s ruling clerics prevented Tehran from responding coherently to initiatives in the last year of the Clinton
administration. But events since, particularly the US occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq – Iran’s immediate neighbours – combined with
signs of mounting domestic unrest, have led to a rethink in Tehran.

Sources in Tehran and Washington close to the Iranian government said Mr Zarif did not have the authority to propose a grand strategy of engagement with the ultimate aim of restoring diplomatic relations. But he is thought to have high-level backing for negotiations that would cut deals on an issue-by-issue basis, starting with the nuclear crisis.

A much bolder proposal of a strategic realignment of US-Iranian relations was made by Mohsen Rezaei, a former commander of Iran’s
Revolutionary Guards, on the sidelines of a Middle East conference in Athens in early May. But Mr Rezaei, it has since emerged, was not speaking on behalf of the Iranian government.

The question of who speaks with authority for the Islamic republic is one that continues to trouble Washington.

Mr Zarif publicly addressed Iran’s willingness to be engaged on the issues of nuclear weapons and the reconstruction of Iraq and
Afghanistan in a commentary in the International Herald Tribune on May 12. But as one US official pointed out, “it was not good timing”. On that day, al-Qaeda suicide bombers killed more than 30 people, including six Americans, in Saudi Arabia.

%d bloggers like this: