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Shift in U.S. Stance Shows Power of Seven-Letter Word

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    Shift in U.S. Stance Shows Power of Seven-Letter Word http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/31/AR2006053101931.html?referrer=email By
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 1 4:37 AM
      Shift in U.S. Stance Shows Power of Seven-Letter Word

      By Glenn Kessler
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      Thursday, June 1, 2006; Page A13

      The Bush administration's decision to consider sitting down with the Iranian
      government underscores a central truth of diplomacy today: Nuclear weapons buy

      For six years, President Bush and his aides have dismissed the idea of talking
      with Iran about its nuclear programs, and until last year gave little support
      to European efforts to restrain Iranian nuclear activity. Attempts by former
      Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, a moderate, to foster a dialogue were
      rejected, and even back-channel moves failed to gain traction.

      Now, in perhaps the biggest foreign policy shift of his presidency, Bush has
      approved the idea of sitting down at the table with the Iranian government --
      one headed by a former student radical who denies the Holocaust. Attached to
      the U.S. offer was a stern condition: a verified suspension of Iran's nuclear
      enrichment operations. But the offer overturned a long-standing taboo, and it
      came from an administration stocked with officials who have made little secret
      of their desire to overthrow the government in Tehran.

      The administration made this move at a moment of weakness. The president's
      public opinion ratings are among the lowest ever recorded for a modern
      president, and oil prices have reached record levels, in part because of the
      confrontation with Iran. The high price of oil, in turn, has enriched the
      Iranian treasury.

      Iran recently announced it had learned how to achieve a key aspect of
      enriching uranium -- sooner than expected -- raising the stakes in the
      confrontation. Even so, the lingering fallout from the administration's
      decision to attack Iraq has made it increasingly difficult to win the support
      for sanctions on Iran from critical nations such as Russia and China.

      A key factor in Bush's decision yesterday is the influence of Secretary of
      State Condoleezza Rice, who announced the offer in a televised news
      conference. Since becoming secretary of state last year, Rice has worked
      assiduously to make certain that the United States does not maneuver itself
      into becoming the world's enemy No. 1, as it did on the Iraq war.

      When Rice made her first trip overseas as secretary last year, to Europe, she
      had expected to hear a lot of concern about Iraq. Instead, she later said, she
      was surprised to learn that the confrontation over Iran's nuclear program was
      a bigger concern -- and that the United States was considered the problem.

      She very quickly won Bush's approval for a public shift in policy: active
      support of the European negotiating track. The support included withdrawing
      the U.S. objection to Iran's application to the World Trade Organization and
      allowing Iran the potential to purchase civilian aviation spare parts.

      At the time, Rice insisted that the decision to support the Europeans did not
      mean the Americans would join the talks. (Lower-level U.S. officials on
      occasion have talked to Iranian counterparts about Afghanistan and Iraq.)

      "We've made very clear that we have a lot of other problems with the
      Iranians," Rice said when she announced the decision in March 2005. "We've
      also made very clear that we don't intend to do anything to legitimize the
      Iranian regime. And so what we're looking at here is helping the Europeans in
      their diplomacy, not shifting policy toward Iran."

      But the Iranians walked away from those talks, and the administration slowly
      found itself drawn into a different stance as the diplomacy unfolded. Rice
      needed to win over the Russians and Chinese -- and keep the Europeans in
      line -- so she quietly dropped the objections to the Iranian desire for
      nuclear power. Previously, the administration had insisted Iran had no need
      for nuclear power because of its vast oil and gas reserves. But to placate
      other nations, U.S. officials retreated from that insistence.

      "The Iranian people believe they have a right to civil nuclear energy," Rice
      said yesterday. "We acknowledge that right."

      Over the past two months Bush and Rice, along with Vice President Cheney and
      national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley, have considered the question of
      whether the time was right for the United States to sit at the talks. Once
      Bush received assurances earlier this week from leaders of China, Russia and
      other nations that if this offer were rejected they would accept a harder line
      against Iran, U.S. officials decided to go forward with the plan.

      Rice said yesterday that she advocated this decision in part because of echoes
      of the concerns that she heard on her first trip -- that the United States was
      not serious about resolving this issue with diplomacy.

      Conservatives in the administration have chafed at the shifts, suggesting it
      shows weakness on the part of the United States because Iran apparently has
      been able to make significant progress in nuclear energy -- with little
      apparent consequence.

      Rice made this new move just as it appeared the European effort was on the
      verge of collapsing through division and lack of leadership. The Germans,
      eager to strike a deal with Iran, have been the most adamant that the United
      States needed to join the talks.

      "If this is what it takes to get Russia and China to join in sanctions, so be
      it," one administration skeptic said. "But I am most concerned that we will
      end up renegotiating with ourselves again."
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