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Iran's Letter Should Start a Dialogue
Published on Friday, May 19, 2006 by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Iran's Letter Should Start a Dialogue
by Helen Thomas
 

Wanted: A seasoned U.S. statesman to start direct talks with Iran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote an 18-page letter to President Bush on May 10 that recited a host of Iranian grievances but barely touched on the crucial topic of Iran's apparent pursuit of nuclear weapons.

What the United States needs now is a diplomatic pro well-versed in Middle Eastern affairs who can read between the lines of that letter, ignore the fiery rhetoric and look for a clue on how to peacefully end the dangerous U.S. rift with Tehran.

One wonders if the hawkish Bush administration is ready for a rapprochement with the mullahs who have caused so much havoc with the United States since 1979 when radicals seized the U.S. Embassy and held the staff hostage.

Bush seems to realize that more belligerency is not the way to go for a nation already strapped with a costly war in Iraq. But is he ready to take the brave step the world would applaud?

The letter from Ahmadinejad was the first formal communication between Tehran and Washington since relations were severed 27 years ago -- and it should be taken seriously.

An Iranian spokesman said the letter proposed "new solutions for getting out of international problems and the current fragile situation of the world."

Publicly, at least, U.S. officials from the president on down have dismissed the letter because it did not deal with the troubling issue of Iran's apparent determination to join the nuclear club and to build its own nuclear arsenal.

Bush said in an interview with a group of Florida newspapers: "It looks like it did not answer the main question that the world is asking, and that is: 'When will you get rid of your nuclear program?' "

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice claimed the letter "did not address the issues that we're dealing with in a concrete way."

The letter was an obvious last-ditch attempt to forestall the U.N. Security Council from acting on a resolution that would allow sanctions or even military force against Iran.

Bush keeps saying he is looking for a diplomatic solution to end the standoff. Well, here is an opening.

The long-winded letter could be interpreted as an olive branch or an invitation for negotiations. And why not?

The United States blinked at the fact that Pakistan has developed a nuclear stockpile while denying for years that it wanted to go nuclear. India also has nuclear weapons.

Israel secretly developed a nuclear stockpile -- the only nation in the troubled Middle East to do so -- and there were no howls from the United States.

None of these three friendly nations -- Pakistan, India and Israel -- has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Iran is a signer, but has blocked some international inspection in violation of the pact. It claims it has the right to enrich uranium for reactors that generate electricity.

Meantime, Bush has agreed to help India develop its peaceful nuclear program, though critics say this will enable New Delhi to build more weapons. Congress has yet to approve the deal.

If all else fails, the United States and some European allies hope to force Iran to cave by invoking Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, which would allow them to impose economic sanctions or to take military action.

China and Russia -- dependent on Iran for some oil -- are taking a softer approach and are rejecting tough sanctions against Iran.

Instead of autocratically cherry-picking which nations can join the nuclear club, why doesn't the United States propose global disarmament for a safer world?

That will be the day.

Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers.

© 2006 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

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