Tehran May Set Aside Washington Talks

Iran is no longer interested in a dialogue with the United States, according to officials in Tehran. Word that proposed talks are not likely to get off the ground came after Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, renewed an offer of talks in an interview with the Associated Press.

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The government of Iran has decided that it will not engage in direct talks with the United States about the situation in Iraq. Last year President Bush authorized such talks and earlier this year the Iranian government said it would participate, but the talks never took place and now Iran says it is no longer interested.

NPR's Mike Shuster reports from Tehran.

MIKE SHUSTER reporting:

A few months ago the chaos in Iraq and the difficulty in forming a new government seemed to have convinced both the United States and Iran that they had a mutual interest in sitting down to talk. President Bush announced his willingness to see such talks occur and he gave responsibility for them to the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Zalme Khalilzad.

After some delay, the Iranian government said it would participate, but then nothing happened. The U.S. announced it could not hold talks with Iran without representatives of the new Iraqi government attending.

Now Iran has concluded it is not necessary at the moment to hold such talks with American officials. Mohammed Fardi(ph) is the Director General for the Americas of the Iranian Foreign Ministry.

Mr. MOHAMMED FARDI (Americas of the Iranian Foreign Ministry): I do not think they are sincere nor they are serious about this request that they make. Besides, because of the new developments in Iraq and establishment of the new government, we don't think such talks would be necessary anymore. They are very pessimistic about the intention of the United States and their sincerity about proposing such talks to be taking place.

SHUSTER: The Iranian decision comes just as Ambassador Khalilzad has renewed his interest in meeting with Iranian officials. In an interview published by the Associated Press today, Khalilzad said the formation of an Iraqi government has cleared the way for talks with Iran. "We have a lot of issues we'd like to discuss with them," Khalilzad was quoted as saying, "and we are prepared to listen to their concerns."

The immediate prospect of such talks appears to be the casualty of the pressure the U.S. is putting on Iran over its nuclear activities. The Iranian government is still smarting from criticism in the UN Security Council and from all the talk from official and unofficial Washington about regime change in Tehran and the possibility of military action to destroy Iran's nuclear sites.

The wall of distrust between Iran and the U.S. is simply to high. says Muhammed Fardi.

Mr. FARDI: I think U.S. policy towards Iran in line with expansion of American domination in the Middle East through creation of new crises and increase of tensions in the region.

SHUSTER: The mood here has changed drastically from just three months ago. Then some key officials in the Iranian government were hinting that talks on Iraq might lead to a broader agenda of discussions between the two countries. That was the message conveyed in February by political science professor Nasar Hadyan, who maintains close contact with key Iranian officials.

Mr. NASAR HADYAN (Political science professor): If the message comes from the U.S., not through Ambassador Khalilzad, but rather through other channels which do not indicate this is just going to be Iraqi issue, but if someone else somehow conveyed the message to Iran that, okay, we are ready for a talk which can include Iraq, terrorism, al-Qaida, peace process, there's a good chance that this government would respond positively.

SHUSTER: The head of Iran's national security council even hinted that he would like to meet with his counterpart in the White House, National Security Advisor Steven Hadley.

The administration brushed these feelers off and at least publicly the U.S. insisted any talks with Iran would be limited to a discussion of Iraq. Now, it looks like Iran and the U.S. can't even agree to do that.

Mike Shuster, NPR News, Tehran.

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