Iran, U.S. leaning toward talks?
Recent events suggest both Tehran and Washington may be willing to engage in dialogue.
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Last week, Gen. David Petraeus told Congress that as commander of US forces in the Middle East and Central Asia, he would recommend a comprehensive approach to Iran that would "engage by use of the whole of government" the regime in Tehran.
General Petraeus, who is President Bush's nominee to head US Central Command – a strategically crucial swath stretching from the Middle East and across Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan to Pakistan – aired his preference for diplomacy at the same time that Iran proposed a wide-ranging dialogue with the international community.
In a mid-May letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki proposed a wide-ranging package of issues for discussion with the UN Security Council, including Iran's nuclear program, and said Iran is prepared to seek "real and serious cooperation among the concerned parties."
Some Western officials dismissed the letter as grandstanding and "clever maneuvering" before the Security Council and Germany, known as the P5+1 Group, submits a new incentives package to Tehran to give up uranium enrichment. Uranium is used in nuclear energy production and can be diverted to create the fuel needed for a nuclear weapon.
Reactions to the proposal surfaced even as the UN nuclear watchdog organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency, was expected to report Monday that Iran continues to drag its feet on providing access to records concerning past nuclear activity, especially on weaponization.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said last Thursday that such a finding by the IAEA would gut Iran's claim that it has been fully transparent with the UN agency. "If Iran has peaceful intent as they say, they should have no problem with the IAEA" having total access, she said.
But some analysts say the Iranian initiative could potentially serve as an opening for addressing not just the nuclear issue but also other regional issues. For Washington, these would include Iran's involvement in Iraq and its support of militant Islamic groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.