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Rice cool to idea of talks with Iran about Iraq


Reuters: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday all but rejected the idea of talks with Iran about quelling the violence in Iraq unless Tehran first acts to rein in its suspected nuclear weapons program. By Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON, Dec 8 (Reuters) – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday all but rejected the idea of talks with Iran about quelling the violence in Iraq unless Tehran first acts to rein in its suspected nuclear weapons program.

In her first comment about the Iraq Study Group report, Rice was cool to its recommendation that the United States actively engage with Iran and Syria to try to stabilize Iraq, a key proposal from the bipartisan advisory panel.

The United States accuses Iraq and Syria of fomenting the raging insurgency nearly four years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Rice defended President George W. Bush’s push to bring democracy to the Middle East — an idea conspicuously absent from the panel’s recommendations — saying it would remain a “centerpiece” of U.S. foreign policy.

While saying she saw “an opening” for progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace, Rice did not endorse the panel’s call for new diplomatic push for a “comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.”

Speaking at a news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Rice was skeptical of engaging with Iran about Iraq, suggesting Tehran was bound to demand some payback — probably over its atomic program — in return.

The United States has offered to hold wide-ranging talks with Iran if it first suspends uranium enrichment, which can produce fuel for nuclear power plans or atomic bombs.

“As to Iran and Syria, let’s remember that the issue here is behavior … Can you change the behavior of these states?” she asked. “I have to believe that, if the assumption is that Iran does not want an unstable Iraq for whatever reason, or that Syria does not want an unstable Iraq, that they will act on that because it’s in their interests to do so.

“If, in fact, they’re (the Iranians) looking for compensation to stop helping destabilize Iraq, that’s another matter altogether, because one would have to ask: What compensation are they looking for?” she added.

“I don’t think the Iranians are going to be prepared to neatly compartmentalize our discussions on stabilization of Iraq over here, the nuclear program over here. The Iranians have a set of interests and that’s what I mean by compensation — it’s best to do this within the context of trying to deal with the nuclear program,” she said. “We have a serious problem if Iran continues its current course toward the development of technologies that will lead to a nuclear weapon.”

Iran denies it is pursuing nuclear weapons and has refused to suspend its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.

The United States broke diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980 when 52 Americans were held hostage by Iranian militants who seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

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