Iran General NewsRice interview: No Iran hostage crisis

Rice interview: No Iran hostage crisis

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AP: Iran’s detention of at least four Americans is not a new hostage crisis akin to the seizure of U.S. diplomats three decades ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday. Associated Press

By ANNE GEARAN and MATTHEW LEE

Associated Press Writers

NEW YORK (AP) – Iran’s detention of at least four Americans is not a new hostage crisis akin to the seizure of U.S. diplomats three decades ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, the top U.S. diplomat said the detentions are unwarranted but will not stop the United States from trying to engage Iran on other matters, including its disputed nuclear program and alleged support of insurgents in Iraq.

“Let’s not try to go back to an historical analogy that I think is a very different set of circumstances,” Rice said of comparisons to the 1979 hostage standoff.

“These people are not linked up with what we are doing in other” forums, she said.

The United States broke off ties to Tehran after the storming of the U.S. Embassy there. Iran held U.S. hostages for 444 days, and the episode sealed Iran as the principal U.S. adversary in the Middle East.

“The embassy situation, I think everybody recognizes, had a special character and it is at the root of why it is very difficult to see the path to normal relations with Iran,” Rice said.

Iran confirmed Friday for the first time that it is holding an Iranian-American peace activist, the fourth dual citizen it has detained in recent months, according to a semiofficial news agency.

President Bush has condemned the detentions.

“We take seriously the holding of any American anywhere in the world where they are being wrongly held and where they are being accused of things that clearly are untrue,” Rice said.

“It just shows again what kind of regime this is,” she said.

Separately in the hour-long interview, Rice:

– Appeared to cast doubt on whether the United States would take its tentative diplomatic outreach to Iran any further for now.

– Appealed for patience on Iraq.

– Said Washington would continue to pursue its own missile defense plans for Europe despite a surprise Russian counteroffer.

The U.S. and Iranian ambassadors in Iraq met last month for the first public, substantive high-level discussions the two countries have held in nearly three decades. Although limited to the topic of violence and instability in Iraq, the talks have been seen as a possible window to better relations.

Immediately after the meeting in Baghdad, Iran announced plans for another. But U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker said Washington would decide only after the Iraqi government issued an invitation.

U.S. officials also said they wanted to see Iran follow up on U.S. complaints that it is equipping and helping insurgents who attack American forces.

The Bush administration had resisted even limited talks with Iran until this year, arguing that Iran would use the contact as leverage in its standoff with the West over its nuclear program.

The U.S. softened that hard line at the request of Iraq’s government, and under bipartisan pressure from Congress. The Iraq Study Group also recommended that the U.S. talk to Iran and Syria about the declining situation in Iraq and try to recruit help from other neighboring states.

Rice suggested it may be too soon for another meeting.

“Ryan’s conversations – if they happen again,” would aim to send a strong message to Iran about its behavior in Iraq, Rice said. “The Iraqis would like it to happen again. We haven’t determined when and if it makes sense.”

On missile defense, Rice said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s offer to share a Soviet-era radar tracking station in Azerbaijan for the project had caught the Bush administration off guard. She said the idea was worth looking into even while missile defense negotiations continue with Poland and the Czech Republic.

“One does not choose sites for missile defense out of the blue,” she said. “It’s geometry and geography as to how you intercept a missile.”

Rice said Putin’s idea, which represented a softening in Moscow’s hardline opposition to missile defense, could be positive but stressed that Washington would do what it saw fit to deal with the “real security problem” posed by rogue states.

“If it is a way to begin more serious discussions about what we believe is a common threat – which is the threat of the Irans and North Koreas of the world launching missiles – that’s a very positive development,” she said.

The United States has been pushing a plan that would put the radar tracking station in the Czech Republic and missile interceptors in Poland to protect European and NATO allies from attacks.

Until Putin’s Azerbaijan offer on Thursday, Russia had been vehemently opposed to the entire concept, arguing that it posed a threat to its nuclear deterrent.

On Iraq, Rice insisted that the United States was on the right track despite continuing violence and growing calls among lawmakers and the American public for U.S. troops to withdraw. She suggested the Iraqi government needed more time to pass an oil revenue-sharing law and take other measures to reconcile warring Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

“We’re going to have to do it, no matter how hard it is,” Rice said of a need for the deeply divided Iraqi government to pass a new oil law along with other legislation to give its people confidence.

Now, she said of Iraq and its people, “No one knows the rules of the game.” She predicted that once passed, the laws would be accepted by the people.

“Over time, they will come to accept it and deal with it, but right now that framework is not in place,” she said.

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