Wed, May 10, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Ahmadinejad's note to US leader draws very mixed reaction

AP , TEHRAN

The Iranian president's letter to US President George W. Bush -- the first such communication in 27 years -- sparked both ire and praise inside Iran and across the Middle East yesterday.

Iranian newspapers described the letter as "an initiative in global diplomacy" and "dialogue under the shadow of war."

But conservative lawmaker Hashmatollah Falahatpisheh lambasted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday for failing to consult parliament before sending the letter.

"This message is the outcome of a series of taboo-breaking behaviors in Iran's foreign policy ... That the parliament is not aware of [the contents of the] letter is questionable," he told a session of the parliament broadcast live on state-run radio.

He added that he was not optimistic about Bush's reaction, citing an "illogical mentality" in the White House.

The London-based Saudi daily Asharq al-Awsat called the letter proof "Iran is not enriching uranium for peaceful purposes as it says, and is striving for leadership and control of the region."

Such Iranian leadership would mean the Israeli-Palestinian peace process "would be stalled, the Iraqi dream [of democracy] would be thwarted and we would witness a new wave of armament," wrote Tariq Alhomayed, the paper's editor-in-chief.

But an editorial in Lebanon's the Daily Star newspaper called the letter "a cause for hope that a peaceful solution to the international row over Iran's nuclear program can be reached," and called on Washington to initiate direct talks with Tehran.

Ahmadinejad yesterday called his letter "words and opinions of the Iranian nation" aimed at finding a "way out of problems humanity is suffering from," according to the official Iranian news agency. He spoke briefly before boarding a plane for Indonesia, where he was to attend a summit of developing nations.

Ahmadinejad's letter appeared timed to blunt the US drive for a Security Council vote on the issue this week.

But the Iranian government spokesman who first disclosed the letter said it spoke to the larger US-Iranian conflict -- which dates to the 1979 hostage crisis.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, called the surprise letter a new "diplomatic opening" between the two countries, but US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the 17-page letter does not help resolve the standoff over Tehran's nuclear program.

"This letter is not the place that one would find an opening to engage on the nuclear issue or anything of the sort," Rice said in an interview.

"It isn't addressing the issues that we're dealing with in a concrete way," she said.

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