Tutu urges US to be more open in discussions with Iran

Nobel Peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu said on Monday that the United States government must be more open to discussions with Iran if it wants peace between the nations.

Tutu criticised the George Bush’s administration for refusing to engage in more negotiations with Iranian officials, saying recent diplomatic efforts were nothing more than ”playing marbles”.

”Negotiations are not things that happen between friends,” Tutu said at an event at the Princeton Club in New York City. ”They happen between enemies, especially the ones you can’t stand … if you want peace, you speak to the people you find most unacceptable.”

The US has been estranged from Iran since the 1979 storming of the US embassy in Tehran. Tensions are high between Washington and Tehran over US accusations that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons and helping Shi’ite militias in Iraq that target US troops — claims that Iran denies.

Tutu was responding to a question about Columbia University’s decision to invite Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to address students on Monday at a forum on campus. He praised the school for helping to facilitate communication with the hardline president.

”Columbia is helping … a university by definition is a place where you have a whole plethora of points of view,” he said.

Tutu, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to reconcile perpetrators and victims of apartheid in South Africa, spoke at an event for donors to a new Irish charity that builds houses for millions of impoverished South Africans who live in shacks.

On the state of his own country, Tutu said it was ”extraordinary” that there had not been more of an uprising to protest the squalid conditions of townships, where populations are predominantly black.

”It’s 13 years down the line and we are still living in shacks,” said Tutu.

He said South Africans had come a long way in healing wounds from their violent past, but ”the chasm is still there”.

Tutu, who chairs a group dedicated to finding new ways to foster peace and resolve global crises known as The Elders, will lead a delegation including former US president Jimmy Carter to Sudan from Sepember 30 to October 5.

The group will meet in Sudan’s capital with the government and opposition parties, civil society and international organisation representatives, and will then travel to Darfur to visit local community leaders and displaced people. – Sapa-AP

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