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Iran Letter Criticizes U.S. Policy, Sidesteps Negotiations

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that President Bush would not respond to a letter from Iran's President Ahmadinejad in which he criticizes U.S. policy and democracy. Two policy experts discuss avenues for communication between the U.S. and Iran.

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  • GWEN IFILL:

    These images of 52 Americans held hostage at the United States embassy in Tehran have defined the United States' strained relationship with Iran for nearly 27 years.

    Although the U.S. has officially severed ties with Iran, there have been sporadic efforts at communication over the years. After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Iran helped the United States overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan.

    But Iran's nuclear ambitions have escalated tensions between the two countries. Yesterday, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, sent President Bush a letter that marked the first direct communication in decades between U.S. And Iranian heads of state.

    In it, he took the United States to task for its support of Israel, the war in Iraq, and obliquely its criticism of Iran's nuclear development program. "Why is it," he wrote, "that any technological and scientific achievement reached in the Middle East regions is translated into and portrayed as a threat to the Zionist regime?"

    "Those in power have specific time in office and do not rule indefinitely," he continued. "But their names will be recorded in history and will be constantly judged in the immediate and distant futures. The people will scrutinize our presidencies."

    The U.S. Has asked the United Nations Security Council to demand that Iran stop its program of nuclear enrichment. Go-betweens in Europe — mainly Britain, France and Germany — have led that charge, attempting to declare Iran a threat to international peace as a first step towards sanctions. But those negotiations reached another impasse today after China and Russia resisted.

    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is involved in talks this week at the U.N., weighed in.

    CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. Secretary of State: … the political directors are examining how to show Iran that there is a path that could lead them to a civil nuclear program that would be acceptable to the international community.

    We are also, however, very clear that there is a path that if Iran continues down it is going to lead them to isolation, and that is why we are continuing to discuss and, indeed, intend to propose and pass a resolution that makes very clear to Iran that living up to their obligations, the obligations set out by the board of governors, is obligatory.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    There are some officials, among them U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who say the U.S. should deal with Iran directly. Annan spoke to Jim Lehrer last week.

  • KOFI ANNAN, U.N. Secretary General:

    And I think it would be good if the U.S. were to be at the table with the Europeans, the Iranians, the Russians to try and work this out. If everybody, all the stakeholders and the key players, were around the table, I think it would be possible to work out a package that will satisfy the consents of everybody.

  • GWEN IFILL:

    In Florida today, President Bush repeated his desire for a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear dispute but did not comment directly on Ahmadinejad's letter.

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