Iran, U.S. leaning toward talks?
Recent events suggest both Tehran and Washington may be willing to engage in dialogue.
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"It should be taken seriously, there's nothing to lose," says David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. Mr. Albright, whose organization's website published the Iranian letter, says that while the proposal offers nothing new on the nuclear front, it suggests the Iranians are "truly interested this time," in negotiations.Skip to next paragraph
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The calls for diplomacy come amid other signs that the issue of Iran is on Washington's front foreign policy burner.
Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a Senate committee that a resurgence of "hard-line views" under Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made dialogue difficult. But the goal, he added, should be to use a variety of tools, from diplomacy to economic and military "pressures," to convince Tehran that talks with the US are in its interest.
In the Middle East earlier this month, Mr. Bush warned against "appeasement" in dealing with Tehran – interpreted by some as a swipe at Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, who has said that as president he would be open to talks with President Ahmadinejad.
But last week, the White House dismissed as "not worth the paper it's written on" an Israeli press report that said discussions during Bush's Israel stop suggests he favors military action against Iran.
That report was published amid growing speculation that Israel is pressing Washington for an attack on Iran's nuclear sites before Bush's term ends. Albright of ISIS says he heard Petraeus's Senate comments as part of an effort to "calm things down a little bit."
The sometimes grudging acknowledgement of the potential usefulness of talks with Iran reflects a recognition of its growing influence in the Middle East, some analysts say, especially since the toppling of its arch-enemy, Saddam Hussein. The triumph of Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon's government pact last week is the latest example, experts say.
Tehran is making a "preemptive move" by sending its dialogue proposal to the UN before the P5+1 Group submits its latest incentives package to Tehran, says Bahman Baktiari, an associate professor of political science at the University of Maine in Bangor.
It is also a sign, he adds, that Iran's leaders are more unified now on dealing with the international community on the nuclear issue. Professor Baktiari, originally from Iran, says the letter – and especially the fact it was penned by Foreign Minister Mottaki, who was previously "pushed aside by Ahmanidejad" – reflects the rise of "pragmatic conservatives" in Iran's domestic politics who favor "at least considering proposals from the West."
The dialogue proposal also reflects the Iranians' recognition, he adds, that they need to keep Russia and China on their side. "[The Iranians] see the Security Council as the tool of the US," he says, "so of course they prefer to see it divided."