Ahmadinejad writes to Bush amid worsening nuclear crisis

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has written to United States President George Bush to “propose new ways” to resolve a quarter-century of tensions between the arch-foes, Tehran announced on Monday.

The historic move brings an end to a 26-year-old break in official top-level contacts with Washington and comes amid US calls for sanctions and even threats of force to stop the hard-line Islamic regime’s disputed nuclear drive.

Government spokesperson Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters that the message “goes beyond the nuclear question”.

“In this letter, while analysing the world situation and finding the roots of the problems, he has proposed new ways for getting out of the existing vulnerable world situation,” Elham said.

The message was handed to the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, Philippe Welti, by Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki. In Washington, the White House said it was still “unaware” of the letter.

Washington has not had direct diplomatic relations with Iran since April 1980, following the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 in which 52 Americans were held for 444 days.

The Swiss embassy in Tehran has been acting as a conduit for messages since 1981.

“It is not an open letter which can be made public,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hamid Reza Asefi said, adding its content “will be made public at the right time”.

“The letter contains interesting things. It is written in English,” a source in Ahmadinejad’s office also told Agence France-Presse.

The US and Iran are at loggerheads over Tehran’s nuclear programme, which Washington suspects is a cover for ambitions to build atomic weapons.

News of the letter came ahead of a meeting in New York of the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany in a bid to map out a common strategy to force Iran to halt sensitive nuclear-fuel work.

Security Council members are bargaining over a Franco-British draft resolution that would legally require Iran to freeze all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.

Tehran vowed on Sunday it would refuse to comply, warning the diplomatic crisis was heading toward a “confrontation”.

Bush has not ruled out taking military action against Tehran, which Washington also accuses of being the world’s “leading sponsor of terror”.

A Western diplomat in Tehran, speaking on condition of anonymity, said news of Ahmadinejad’s letter was a “diplomatic bombshell”—given that communications via the Swiss have invariably been between the Iranian foreign ministry and the US State Department, far below the presidential level.

“This has been on the cards, in as much as the Iranians have been trying to make contact with the Americans for some time,” the diplomat said.

“But up until now these contacts have been secretive and not at a particularly senior level, and have not got anywhere in so far as the root of the problem is still there,” the diplomat said.

“Of course it depends on what Ahmadinejad has actually written.
Is there an opening for direct talks for example, or is it just an anti-American rant?” the diplomat added.

Diplomats from both sides have also held confidential meetings, most recently following the defeat of Afghanistan’s Taliban in 2001 and prior to the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

But these contacts have led to no easing of tensions, while Iran had until recently asserted that there was “no point” talking with a country still known here as the “Great Satan”.

“We’ll also have to see how the Americans respond, bearing in mind that Ahmadinejad is none too popular in Washington at the moment,” the diplomat said.

But another Western diplomat questioned Iran’s motives and timing, saying the letter may just be “opportunism” by the regime as it seeks to prevent world powers agreeing on tough UN action.

In an interview published on Sunday, Bush said he preferred a “diplomatic solution” to the nuclear crisis and Iran’s threats against Israel, but said “all options should be placed on the table”.

When Ahmadinejad says “that he wants to destroy Israel, the world should take that very seriously,” Bush said.

Bush has already lumped Iran into an “axis of evil”, a view that has only been reinforced by Ahmadinejad’s call for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and his view of the Holocaust as a “myth”.—AFP

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