Rice Downplays Letter from Iran's President A letter from Iran's president to President Bush overshadows Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's meetings in New York with senior diplomats from France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China. Rice dismissed the letter as a diversionary tactic.

Rice Downplays Letter from Iran's President

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This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep, in Baghdad.


And here in Los Angeles, I'm Renee Montagne.

In this part of the program, we will report on the next steps forward in Iraq and Iran. We start at the United Nations, where Iran has dominated Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's talks in New York.

She held a strategy meeting, late into the night, with diplomats from the three European nations that have negotiated with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. That would be France, Britain, and Germany. Also included in Rice's meeting, were Russia and China—-two permanent Security Council members hesitant to punish Iran, as the U.S. would like.

NPR's Michele Kelemen is in New York covering the discussions.

And Michele, this late-night strategy session came as Iran made an overture to the Bush administration, a letter, a personal letter from the president. Did that affect the talks?


Well U.S. officials did their best to try to make sure it didn't. The U.S. wanted to talk about a strategy to isolate Iran, and they said that this letter - that Iran's president sent to President Bush - was a diversionary tactic.

There were certainly a lot of questions about it, though, and Secretary Rice and her aides said they had to brief their counterparts, not only in this meeting, but throughout the day, yesterday, about this letter.

It was the first such letter, from an Iranian leader to the White House, since the U.S. cut off ties in the wake of the 1979 Iranian revolution. So it was quite an important event yesterday.

MONTAGNE: Well, the administration didn't release the letter, officially, but what is in the letter? What have you managed to find out?

KELEMEN: Well the officials here who've been briefing diplomats, they've described it as a lengthy philosophical discourse that comments on U.S. policy. It's religious in its tone, about 17 pages long. And it doesn't offer any suggestions of how to get out of this diplomatic impasse over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Now you have to remember that the Iranians have always said that they have a right to a peaceful nuclear program, which they say their program is.

The letter also apparently makes some references to Iraq, about how lies justified the war in Iraq. So this is likely to hit a nerve, for instance, with the Russians, who say they don't want to pass a Security Council resolution that could lead the way to sanctions or war. They don't want to see this as déjà vu, just like the Iraq debate.

MONTAGNE: What is the status of the Security Council debate on Iran?

KELEMEN: Well I have to say, the U.S. official briefing us on the dinner last night made clear that there's a lot of work ahead to bring the Russians and the Chinese on to this approach.

I mean, even the so-called EU3, Germany, Britain, and France - and Britain and France were the ones who circulated this draft - were sounding quite cautious last night, saying it could take a couple of weeks. And there wasn't much new in the U.S. position. The U.S. is insisting on a Chapter 7 resolution, which means that the U.N. demands on Iran would be mandatory, but that also sets the stage for sanctions or punitive measures.

The goal of this diplomacy on the U.S. side, is to isolate Iran's regime, and officials say they have no intention of talking directly with the Iranians, and that's another issue that keeps coming up in these strategy sessions.

MONTAGNE: Thanks very much.

NPR's Michele Kelemen in New York, where diplomats from six countries are continuing their discussions on Iran's nuclear program.

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