Iran Nuclear NewsWhite House denies stoking Iran nuclear tensions

White House denies stoking Iran nuclear tensions

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AFP: The White House insisted Monday it was still committed to diplomacy with Iran, despite ominous comments from the US president and vice president attacking the Islamic republic’s nuclear drive. WASHINGTON (AFP) — The White House insisted Monday it was still committed to diplomacy with Iran, despite ominous comments from the US president and vice president attacking the Islamic republic’s nuclear drive.

Spokesman Tony Fratto said also that the replacement of Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator did not alter President George W. Bush’s determination for Iran to stop enriching uranium.

“I wouldn’t call it stepping up the rhetoric,” he told reporters after Bush said last week that a nuclear-equipped Iran evoked the threat of “World War III,” and Vice President Dick Cheney warned of “serious consequences” for Iran.

“In fact what the vice president said was a very clear review of the situation in the Middle East,” Fratto said following a hawkish speech by Cheney on Sunday.

Asked if the administration was setting the stage for war, Fratto said that top US officials including Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “have all been incredibly clear and consistent in our message on Iran.”

“And that is that we first seek a diplomatic solution, we are committed to a diplomatic solution, we are committed to working with our international partners in a unified way to put pressure on Iran to stop its activities.”

In his speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Cheney said: “The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences.

“The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” said the vice president, the administration’s toughest hardliner on Iran.

At a White House press conference last Wednesday, Bush said that he had told world leaders “if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them (the Iranians) from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.”

Iran, which says it only wants peaceful nuclear energy, has brushed aside US warnings, and announced Saturday that its top nuclear negotiator was being replaced by Saeed Jalili, an ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ali Larijani had held the post for over two years but resigned after falling out with the hardline Ahmadinejad over the handling of Iran’s nuclear case.

Jalili was to meet European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Rome on Tuesday for his first talks on the atomic crisis with the West, amid little expectation of a breakthrough.

“Changing the lead negotiator doesn’t change the need for Iran to change its policy,” Fratto said.

“It doesn’t change the fact that Iran needs to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions to stop their (uranium) enrichment and reprocessing activities.”

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Iran could still accept the “generous” package of economic and energy incentives offered by the United States and its European allies in return for halting its nuclear program.

“And there are consequences for their continuing defiance of the international community. And I expect that that will take the form, at least in the Security Council, of additional sanctions,” he said.

Cheney did not mention any military action, but several US reports have said that he is lobbying for strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities and Revolutionary Guards units accused of fomenting unrest in neighboring Iraq.

Manochehr Dorraj, professor of international affairs at Texas Christian University, said the sharper US tone now on display against Tehran was unhelpful.

“Saber-rattling prevents negotiation. Iran really is looking for security incentives,” he said.

“There are a lot of reasons why it makes sense for Iran to normalize relations with the United States. But the Bush administration doesn’t see things that way.”

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