U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday questioned whether dialogue between Iran and the United States could resolve long-standing disputes between the two nations, the Washington Post reported (see GSN, March 3).
U.S. President Barack Obama has said he would consider holding direct talks aimed at persuading Iran to halt atomic activities that could support nuclear-weapon development. Tehran has insisted its nuclear program has no military component and indicated it would not roll back the effort under any circumstances.
Speaking privately with United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Clinton "said she is doubtful that Iran will respond to any kind of engagement and opening the hand out and reaching out to them," a high-level State Department official said.
Addressing Abu Dhabi's concerns that the United States might finalize an agreement with Iran without conferring with Middle Eastern nations, Clinton said Washington "will be consulting with regional leaders and listening," according to the official. "She said we are under no illusions about Iran and our eyes are wide open" (Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, March 3).
Clinton added that Iran's "worst nightmare is an international community that is united and an American government willing to engage Iran," a State Department source told the Chicago Tribune (Paul Richter, Chicago Tribune, March 3).
Clinton later refused to comment on her reported remarks, Agence France-Presse reported.
"As President Obama says, we are willing to extend a hand if the other side unclenches its fist in order to have some process of engagement but it will only be done in close consultation with our friends," she said (Agence France-Presse I/Spacewar.com, March 2).
Her private statements to al-Nahyan could indicate a degree of tension within the Obama administration over the prospects of engagement with Iran, according to the Post (Kessler, Washington Post).
The remarks might also reveal Washington's willingness to offer Iran new options while maintaining Bush administration strategies aimed at isolating Tehran diplomatically and financially, the Tribune suggested (Richter, Chicago Tribune).
Russia yesterday said the United States should increase multilateral diplomacy with Iran in cooperation with the four other permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany, the Associated Press reported.
"We very much want the American side not just to join with the sextet on paper, but to join talks with Iran that the sextet is proposing," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, referring to the six-nation group comprised of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Lavrov added that Washington and Tehran should establish formal diplomatic ties. "This would be an important element in stabilizing the situation in the region," he said (Steve Gutterman, Associated Press/Google News, March 2).
Meanwhile, the U.S. Defense Department said yesterday that news media caused "some confusion" about comments on Iran made by Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, AFP reported. Mullen said Sunday that Iran's low-enriched uranium stockpile could produce enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb, although Tehran would first have to isolate the weapon-grade material.
"It's clear [the Iranians] have the capacity to produce low-grade uranium," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said. "When [Mullen] answered the question about low-grade uranium, it sounded like he was talking about an enriched uranium capability."
Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates "have the same identical assessments on these things," Whitman added (Agence France-Presse II/Google News, March 2).
One Israeli analyst said the uranium in Iran's growing stockpile "is not good enough for a nuclear bomb," Ynetnews reported.
"Even if Iran has reached an amount of high quality uranium which would be enough for one bomb, it won't start creating it immediately. It will have to produce a slather of uranium before creating bombs," said Ephraim Asculai of Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies.
It is not significant that the United States and Israel disagree on aspects of Iran's nuclear capability, Asculai said: "The differences may derive from the fact that the Americans have different intelligence sources than the [International Atomic Energy Agency], but from what we know, they don't have enough information."
"Although we were unfamiliar with the American military's estimates, [Israeli] estimates are not far from theirs," he said. "We all agree that the Iranians have the systems; the only question is the timetables. If they don’t have the ability to create a nuclear bomb today or tomorrow, they'll have one in a few months" (Daniel Edelson, Ynetnews, March 2).
Meanwhile, preliminary tests of Iran's first nuclear power reactor were proceeding smoothly, United Press International reported yesterday.
"As precommissioning has already begun at the atomic power plant in Bushehr we are confident that we are moving toward the full commissioning of the plant," said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi. "There are no problems and the parties involved, Iran and Russia, are seriously working to reach this objective. As technical experts have already pointed out a natural period of time is needed for the power plant to go through tests."
The plant's commissioning would take place on schedule and with "full confidence," he added (United Press International, March 2).