The administration of US President George W. Bush is beginning to debate whether to set aside a longstanding boycott of Iran and open direct talks to try to resolve the crisis over its suspected nuclear weapons program, the New York Times reported yesterday.
European officials who have been in contact with the administration in recent weeks described the Bush administration as intensifying its discussions on the issue, the newspaper said.
European leaders who have conducted lengthy, and so far fruitless, negotiations with Iran have made no secret of their desire for Washington to join in the talks.
But since the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the crisis over the seizure of US hostages in November of that year, the US has avoided direct talks with Iran.
The paper cited European officials as saying that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had begun discussing the issue with top aides at the State Department.
Her belief, they say, is that ultimately the matter will have to be addressed by the administration's national security officials, whether talks with Iran remain at an impasse or even if there is some progress, the Times said.
But others who know her well say she is resisting on the grounds that signaling a willingness to talk would show weakness and disrupt the delicate negotiations with Europe, the report said.
Rice is also said to fear that the administration might end up making too many concessions to Iran, the paper pointed out.
Administration officials said Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have opposed direct talks, even through informal back channels, the Times reported.
As a result, many European officials say they doubt that a decision to talk is likely soon, according to the report.
Meanwhile, the US would still like to discuss Iraq's security with neighboring Iran, a State Department spokesman said on Friday, despite Iran's refusal.
"As far as we are concerned, it's a channel that remains viable and open should we both need it," Sean McCormack said, when asked about Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki's statement on Friday confirming his country's decision not to hold direct talks with the US over Iraq.
"We decided to have such direct talks in the framework of the issue of Iraq, unfortunately the American side tried to use this decision as propaganda and they raised some other issues," Mottaki said, in a press conference with his Iraqi counterpart Hoshyar Zebari during a visit to Baghdad.
"They tried to create a negative atmosphere and that's why the decision was taken for the time being to suspend them," he added.
Hardline Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had already said that talking about Iraq with the US would be of no use.
Iran and the US have had testy relations for decades, exacerbated in recent months over Iran's enrichment of uranium, which Iran says is for nuclear power, while the US and other countries fear could be used for bombs.