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U.S./Iran: Ahmadinejad's Letter To Bush Offers 'Nothing New'

PRAGUE, May 9, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has sent a surprise letter to U.S. President George W. Bush presenting his views on Tehran's relations with the West, the first direct and public communication from the Islamic Republic to the United States since the two countries severed relations in 1979.

Ahmadinejad said his letter represents the "words and opinions of the Iranian nation" and aims at finding a "way out of problems humanity is suffering from." But for now, he has refused to detail the contents of the letter further.

"Our Islamic politeness does not allow us to release the content of the letter as yet, and now we are waiting to see what the recipient's reaction and behavior will be and then we will decide," he said on May 9.

Iranian Supreme National Security Council chief and the top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, termed the letter a new "diplomatic opening" between the Iran and the United States. But Larijani, speaking on May 8 in Ankara, stressed that the letter represents "no softening in tone" from Tehran.

Letter Offers 'Nothing New'

U.S. officials are dismissing the letter as containing no new initiatives that could help solve the nuclear crisis.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in an interview with AP on May 8 that "there's nothing new in here that would suggest that we're on any different course than we were before we got the letter."

Western media have quoted U.S. officials as saying privately that the 16-page letter in Persian makes philosophical, historical, and religious observations about Iran's relationship with the West.

The unidentified U.S. officials say the letter terms the establishment of Israel as costly for the world and brands Western-style democracy a failure.

Still, the letter makes history simply as a direct communication between two countries that never speak publicly.

The United States recently authorized its ambassador in Baghdad to hold talks with Iranian officials about Iraq. But no meetings have yet taken place. Now, the letter from Tehran could give new impetus for such talks or even for dialogue on a broader range of subjects.

Security Council Talks Continue

So far, Washington has yet to say whether or how it might respond to the letter. Instead, U.S. officials are focusing their attention on pressing for a new Security Council resolution that would ratchet up pressure on Tehran over its nuclear activities.

Rice met with foreign ministers of the other permanent member states of the Security Council plus Germany for three hours in New York on May 8. "This is a time for the international community to come together to say to the Iranians with very great clarity that it is time for Iran to accede to the demands of the international community," she said.

News reports say the talks in New York made no breakthroughs in the deadlock over finding a unified approach toward Iran.

Great Britain and France have proposed a resolution to make legally binding the Security Council's demand that Tehran stop uranium enrichment and improve cooperation with international nuclear inspectors. That proposal is backed by the United States and Germany.

But China and Russia object to the Western powers' effort to have the draft resolution adopted under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. That is because Chapter 7 allows enforcement of UN demands by sanctions or even military action.

China's ambassador to the UN, Wang Guangya, said on May 8 that Chapter 7 "is about enforcement measures" and therefore is not appropriate. Beijing and Moscow say they favor solving the nuclear crisis through negotiations with Tehran.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on May 8 that "all of us agreed that Iran must not have nuclear weapons." But he said Moscow wants to draw Iran into "fruitful" negotiations on the issue.

Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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