Iranian Writes to Bush; No R.S.V.P. Is Likely
By STEVEN R. WEISMAN
Published: May 9, 2006
UNITED NATIONS, May 8 — In a diplomatic overture that was immediately dismissed by the United States, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran sent a lengthy letter to President Bush over the weekend offering what an Iranian spokesman called "new ways" to resolve the crisis oIran's nuclear program.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, left,
visits a press fair in Tehran, Iran, with
his Culture Minister Mohammad Hosein
The letter, described in Tehran as the first direct communication from an Iranian leader to an American president since 1979, was said by the spokesman to analyze "the roots of the problems" with the West. But American officials said it was a meandering screed that proposed no solutions to the nuclear issue.
"This letter isn't it," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in an interview with The Associated Press in New York. "This letter is not the place that one would find an opening to engage on the nuclear issue or anything of the sort. It isn't addressing the issues that we're dealing with in a concrete way."
American officials said the letter, which was not released, was 16 pages in Persian and 18 pages in an English translation that Iran had provided. The officials said the letter had offered a philosophical, historical and religious analysis of Iran's relationship to the West, and asked questions about the cost to the world of the establishment of Israel, while another section asserted that Western-style democracy had failed humanity.
Some American officials said the letter appeared to be aimed at disrupting talks on Iran among top envoys of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. The United States ambassador to the United Nations, John R. Bolton, suggested that Iran was throwing "sand in the eyes" of diplomats.
The officials were granted anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the letter.
Ms. Rice met Monday with her counterparts from five countries at a dinner to discuss Iran, but the indications were that the United States and the Europeans remained at odds with Russia and China.
She is to address the Security Council on Tuesday on American recommendations to carry out the accord to end the war in Sudan.
Another urgent matter on her agenda was the Middle East, where there appeared to be a growing difference of views between the Bush administration and some European allies. European officials say they are increasingly worried about the freeze on payments to the Hamas-led Palestinian government, which is causing shortages of medicines and blocking salaries for civil servants.
Last month President Jacques Chirac of France urged President Bush to join a trust fund administered by the World Bank to pay the salaries, circumventing the leaders of Hamas, which won parliamentary elections earlier this year.
The United States is arguing that European, Arab and American donations must not support a government led by a party that refuses to recognize Israel and that condones or even carries out attacks on Israelis.
Ms. Rice is to meet Tuesday with Russian, United Nations and European envoys on Hamas, and the meeting may prove contentious. Iran was the focus of a separate disagreement between the United States and France on the issue of a proposed resolution on Lebanon. France wants the resolution to focus on getting Syria to recognize Lebanon and stop interfering in its affairs. The Bush administration wants the resolution to rebuke Iran as well for interfering in Lebanon.
By all accounts, the most pressing matter before the United States at the United Nations is Iran. As always, the West is trying to get Iran to stop certain nuclear activities it believes to be a front for making weapons. Iran argues that it has a right to carry out these activities, which it says are for civilian nuclear energy.
Britain and France have proposed a resolution demanding that Iran comply with requests from the Security Council and the International Atomic Energy Agency to suspend its enrichment of uranium, end construction of a heavy-water reactor and negotiate the future of its nuclear program.
Their draft resolution would invoke Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, implying that a failure by Iran could lead to further Council action, including economic penalties. Russia and China oppose invoking the chapter, fearing that the West would be paving the way for economic or even military actions.
Russia has led the opposition to a tough resolution on Iran, but on Monday the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, Wang Guangya, said that because Chapter 7 "is about enforcement measures," it is inappropriate at the present.
American and European officials say the choice is whether to push a resolution through under Chapter 7, and hope Russia and China do not veto it, or to water down the resolution to get Russian and Chinese support.
Mr. Bolton said Russia and China could come up with alternative language that would also imply that the demand by the Council was "mandatory" for Iran. But he said no such language had been submitted.
Some European diplomats argue that it is more important to get a unanimously supported resolution than a strong one backed by only some Council members. In effect, they say, a mixed signal is worse than a weak but unanimous signal.
Complicating matters is the tense state of relations with Russia right now. Vice President Dick Cheney may have damaged the chances of getting Russian help on Iran because he has recently assailed Russian policies as antidemocratic and said Russia was trying to use energy as a political weapon.