MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
The complete text of the letter Iran's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote to President Bush has surfaced. Iranian leaders yesterday described the 18-page letter as a diplomatic opening, proposing solutions for the current fragile world situation. Those are the words of an Iranian government spokesman. The initial U.S. reaction to the letter has been dismissive.
NPR's Mike Shuster has been covering U.S. Iranian relations. And Mike, we've both read the letter. It doesn't look like a diplomatic opening, does it?
MIKE SHUSTER: No, it doesn't, Robert. There's only an indirect reference in the letter to Iran's current confrontation with the U.S. over uranium enrichment and the controversial nuclear program and Ahmadinejad does not propose any new way forward on that. In fact, he doesn't make any specific proposal. No solutions advanced on the nuclear issue, Iranian-American relations, the Middle East or anything else in the world. But the letter doesn't strike me as rambling on and on, as some in the United States have already characterized it. It seems to me it's a political and religious lecture.
SIEGEL: I'd like you cite some of those religious points. He addresses President Bush as a Christian.
SHUSTER: Yes, he does. And from the first page, he sets out how he sees American policies as implemented by the decisions of President Bush but through the lens of Christianity.
He says, he asks, can one be a follower of Jesus Christ, great messenger of God--this is him writing--which entails respect for human rights, but at the same time he goes on to make war on Iraq based on false premises?
In a similar way, Ahmadinejad refers to U.S. prisons in Guantanamo, the establishment of the state of Israel and Israel's ongoing conflict with the Palestinians and more broadly U.S. policies across the world. And after each example, he returns to the religious. Do such policies correspond to the teachings of Christ or Moses? he asks. By the way, along the way he acknowledges that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant and 9/11 attacks were horrendous, but it seems what he really is most interested in is making his case against the policies of the U.S.
SIEGEL: Now the letter is addressed personally to President Bush, but it reads less like a private communication than a sort of Iranian presidential encyclical. Just wonder who you think might be the intended wider audience?
SHUSTER: Well, certainly the wider audience is the whole world. They read this letter verbatim on Iranian television today. I think that the Iranians counted on the Americans to make it public as well. In it, he refers to the grievances people have against the U.S. government around the world.
The people will scrutinize our presidencies, he writes, and they will judge us on whether we brought peace and established justice or whether we brought insecurity and unemployment, intimidation and threats. And obviously he's counterposing his policies to those of the United States. His rhetoric is meant to suggest, it seems to me, that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the real champion of the poor, the oppressed and the helpless.
SIEGEL: Now, the one allusion in the Ahmadinejad letter to President Bush to nuclear technology is the complaint why, whenever we Iranians do something, some new technology, you say we're going to use it against, he doesn't even say Israel. He says the Zionist entity, or something.
SHUSTER: Yes. This appears to be the reference to the nuclear program. The Iranians have said all along they want nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and electricity generation, and this is simply a restatement of the position that Ahmadinejad and other Iranian leaders have been saying for a number of months, that the United States is trying to prevent them from technological progress.
SIEGEL: This letter does not promise, it seems, the diplomatic breakthrough that some might have hoped for at this point, but what about activities at the United Nations. Anything going on there.
SHUSTER: Well, yes. There was a meeting of the United States, the other permanent members of the Security Council, as well as Germany, on Iran. This took place last night. It involved the foreign ministers of these nations, including Secretary of State Rice. And they were trying to figure out what to do about the resolution that the United States and the European permanent members want to put before the Security Council. The problem with the Security Council is that Russia and China don't want a mandatory statement from the Security Council, because they're afraid that it might lead to sanctions or military action and at this stage of the game, the Russians and the Chinese oppose that. And so all the members of the, permanent members of the Security Council got together last night to figure out what else to do. And they fell back on what the Europeans had been doing all along, which is another offer to the Iranians. The so-called carrots and stick policy, or making clear to the Iranians what incentives they might get for stopping their uranium enrichment and, at the same time, what sanctions they might face. Now this appears to be a European initiative. The United States seems to be supporting it in a lukewarm fashion. Both Secretary of State Rice and the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, made somewhat lukewarm comments about it today. But that seems to be where it stands.
SIEGEL: So it stands pretty much where it stood a few weeks ago?
SHUSTER: It certainly seems that way.
SIEGEL: Thank you, Mike.
SHUSTER: You're welcome, Robert.
SIEGEL: That's NPR's Mike Shuster.
NORRIS: And you can read President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's complete letter at NPR.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.