On Thursday, Guy Dinmore and Najmeh Bozorgmehr of the Financial Times (UK) reported that due to "total mistrust" on both sides, Washington and Tehran seem "on the brink of missing what analysts see as an historic opportunity to engage in comprehensive, high-level talks."[1]  --  This despite the present time being "a more opportune moment than 2000, when Bill Clinton, then the U.S. president, and Iran's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, failed to establish a meaningful dialogue, with both sides facing serious resistance from hardliners." ...

1.

World

U.S. & Canada

TOTAL MISTRUST SET TO SCUPPER CHANCE OF U.S. AND IRAN TALKS
By Guy Dinmore and Najmeh Bozorgmehr

Financial Times (UK)
October 5, 2006

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/ce067edc-540d-11db-8a2a-0000779e2340.html

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. and Iran appear to be on the brink of missing what analysts see as an historic opportunity to engage in comprehensive, high-level talks because of a complete lack of trust on both sides.

Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief who is trying to find conditions to bring the two sides together, warned yesterday that his mediation efforts could not go on for ever. He said he had so far failed to persuade Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment -- the key precondition for the U.S. to join negotiations over the future of Iran's nuclear program.

The U.S. is set to resume its efforts this week to get a United Nations Security Council resolution that would impose limited sanctions against Iran for failing to heed an August 31 deadline set by the council to suspend enrichment.

However, the U.S. still doubts that China and Russia will back such a measure. American hardliners are also voicing concerns that France is backing away because its forces in Lebanon are "hostage" to Iran.

There are suspicions that President Jacques Chirac of France sought a compromise with Iran in a Paris meeting with a top aide to President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad of Iran on September 12.

A French official strongly denied that Mr. Chirac had sought to make a deal with Iran that would guarantee safety for French forces in southern Lebanon from attack by Iranian-backed Hezbollah in exchange for a softer approach on sanctions and the nuclear issue.

In spite of the move towards sanctions and the clamor from Washington neoconservatives who want to see early military action against Iran, officials and analysts say President George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice, his secretary of state, have concluded that a negotiated settlement is the only way forward.

"Regime change" is no longer considered viable, and the military option is too dangerous, say allied diplomats. Both Mr. Bush's decision to give the process more time and Ms. Rice's offer to meet her Iranian counterpart were indications of genuine goodwill, they said.

The disaster of Iraq, mounting problems in Afghanistan, and serious tensions in transatlantic relations have helped Ms. Rice overcome opposition from hardliners in Washington, who were publicly rebuked by her senior aide Philip Zelikow last month in a key speech which advocated diplomacy.

Even while pursuing a sanctions resolution -- which would be very mild at first if approved at all -- the Bush administration is hoping that a unified international front backed by some punitive measures will induce Iran's leadership to make concessions and start negotiating on the package of incentives on offer.

Sanctions would buttress "pragmatic" forces in Tehran who argue that the cost of Iran's nuclear program is too high, a senior U.S. official told the *Financial Times*. However, such an approach backfired with North Korea, and it is far from clear how the Iranian leadership will respond under duress.

Those seeking engagement say this is a more opportune moment than 2000, when Bill Clinton, then the U.S. president, and Iran's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, failed to establish a meaningful dialogue, with both sides facing serious resistance from hardliners.

Now the leadership in both countries is in a position to direct events, and negotiations would have the support of both Democrats in the U.S. and the ousted reformists in Iran. A weakened U.S. is more inclined to negotiate than in May 2003 when, having just conquered Baghdad, it rebuffed an offer of talks from Iran.

Still, the White House does not believe the Iranian leadership is serious about negotiations. And in Tehran there is intense suspicion about U.S. motives and an understandable reluctance to throw away one of its strongest cards -- the ongoing enrichment program -- before talks even begin.