Iran General NewsIran's former leader says talks possible

Iran’s former leader says talks possible

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AP: A powerful leading rival of Iran’s hard-line president said Wednesday that Tehran will “remove obstacles” blocking negotiations with the United States if Washington shows good will. President Bush dismissed the possibility of talks. Associated Press

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI

Associated Press Writer

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – A powerful leading rival of Iran’s hard-line president said Wednesday that Tehran will “remove obstacles” blocking negotiations with the United States if Washington shows good will. President Bush dismissed the possibility of talks.

Former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, a high-ranking cleric, has no formal foreign policy portfolio but holds seats on two of Iran’s most important government bodies. Seen as one of the country’s most influential figures, Rafsanjani in recent weeks has become an increasingly high-profile public advocate of a more conciliatory stance towards the U.S. and its allies in the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program.

“Any time the United States sends a signal showing good will in its dealings with Iran, we will in return remove obstacles in the way of negotiations,” the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Rafsanjani as saying.

Bush said at a Washington news conference that bilateral talks with Iran were unlikely to yield results in the international push to halt Iran’s nuclear program.

“If I thought we could achieve success, I would sit down. But I don’t think we can achieve success right now – and, therefore, we’ll want to work with other nations,” Bush said. “I think we’re more likely to achieve our goals when others are involved as well.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been the most prominent voice of Iranian defiance of U.S. and European demands that Tehran halt its uranium enrichment program. But Ahmadinejad, who defeated Rafsanjani in 2005 presidential elections, was seen as weakened by December elections in which candidates he supported were defeated or won relatively few votes.

Rafsanjani, seen as a more pragmatic conservative, was strengthened by overwhelmingly winning election in December to the Assembly of Experts, which under the Iranian constitution oversees the country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Rafsanjani also is head of the country’s Expediency Council, which decides disputes between the elected parliament and the Guardian Council of jurists and clerics that oversee all legislation. He was appointed to the Expediency Council by Khamenei.

Rafsanjani in recent weeks has said differences between Iran and the West need to be resolved through “dialogue and wisdom.” It is not clear whether he is speaking for Khamenei, Iran’s ultimate authority, particularly in foreign policy, or simply trying to assert his own influence over the country’s complex and constantly shifting political terrain.

At the same time, the former president has not shied away from strong criticism of American behavior.

“The most important obstacle in the way of establishment of relations, is the manner of America in seeking to dominate in dealings with other countries,” IRNA quoted Rafsanjani as saying.

The U.S. and Iran broke relations in 1979 after Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held its occupants hostage for 444 days.

Relations somewhat thawed after reformist former President Mohammad Khatami called for dialogue to bring down the “wall of mistrust,” but ties worsened after Bush named Iran as part of the “the axis of evil.”

The United States in recent weeks also has stepped up its accusations against Tehran, claiming Iran is behind attacks against troops in Iraq, an assertion denied by Ahmadinejad.

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