White House denies stirring tensions with Iran
Washington (AFP) Oct 22, 2007
The White House insisted Monday it was still committed to diplomacy with Iran, despite menacing comments from the US president and vice president attacking the Islamic republic's nuclear drive.
Spokesman Tony Fratto said also that the replacement of Iran's chief nuclear negotiator did not alter President George W. Bush's determination for Iran to stop enriching uranium.
"I wouldn't call it stepping up the rhetoric," he told reporters after Bush said last week that a nuclear-equipped Iran evoked the threat of "World War III," and Vice President Dick Cheney warned of "serious consequences" for Iran.
"In fact what the vice president said was a very clear review of the situation in the Middle East," Fratto said following a hawkish speech by Cheney on Sunday.
"And by the way it's not at all different from what he has said before, what the president has said before, what Secretary Rice has said before," he said, when asked if the administration was setting the stage for conflict with Iran.
Fratto said that Bush, Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates "have all been incredibly clear and consistent in our message on Iran."
"And that is that we first seek a diplomatic solution, we are committed to a diplomatic solution, we are committed to working with our international partners in a unified way to put pressure on Iran to stop its activities."
In his speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Cheney said: "The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course, the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences.
"The United States joins other nations in sending a clear message: We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon," said the vice president, the administration's toughest hardliner on Iran.
At a White House press conference last Wednesday, Bush said that he had told world leaders "if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them (the Iranians) from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon."
Iran, which says it only wants peaceful nuclear energy, has brushed aside US warnings, and announced Saturday that its top nuclear negotiator was being replaced by Saeed Jalili, an ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Ali Larijani had held the post for over two years but resigned after falling out with the hardline Ahmadinejad over the handling of Iran's nuclear case.
Jalili was to meet European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Rome on Tuesday for his first talks on the atomic crisis with the West, amid little expectation of a breakthrough.
"Changing the lead negotiator doesn't change the need for Iran to change its policy," Fratto said.
"It doesn't change the fact that Iran needs to comply with the UN Security Council resolutions to stop their (uranium) enrichment and reprocessing activities."
Middle East experts who spoke at the Washington Institute conference after Cheney's speech said that US rhetoric against Iran was being sharply escalated.
"The language on Iran is quite significant," former Middle East presidential envoy Dennis Ross said. "That's very strong words and it does have implications."
Cheney did not mention any military action, but several US reports have said that he is arguing for strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities and Revolutionary Guards units accused of fomenting unrest in neighboring Iraq.
However UN nuclear watchdog head Mohamed ElBaradei, in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, denied that Iran represented a "clear and present danger."
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Moscow (RIA Novosti) Oct 22, 2007
On Thursday, October 18, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert paid a brief visit to Russia. He was the first high-ranking overseas politician to meet with Vladimir Putin after the Russian president's visit to Iran. The aim was to discuss the Russian-Iranian negotiations, although Middle East settlement and bilateral cooperation were also on the agenda as all these issues are closely interconnected.
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