Iran General NewsRice cool to talks with Iran, Syria

Rice cool to talks with Iran, Syria

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Reuters: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday said neither Iran nor Syria appeared interested in helping stabilize Iraq or the Middle East as she played down the idea of direct talks.
By Arshad Mohammed

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday said neither Iran nor Syria appeared interested in helping stabilize Iraq or the Middle East as she played down the idea of direct talks.

“There is no lack of opportunity to talk to the Iranians. I think the question is: is there anything about Iranian behavior that suggests that they are prepared to contribute to stability in Iraq and I have to say that at this point, I don’t see it,” Rice told reporters as she flew to Hanoi for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation regional summit.

Her plane stopped at Ramstein Air Base in Germany for a routine refuelling.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former U.S. secretary of state James Baker, who is co-chairing an independent panel studying U.S. policy in Iraq, have suggested talks with both nations as a way to curb the violence in neighboring Iraq.

The United States has accused Iran and Syria of helping to fuel the Iraqi insurgency. Both have denied doing this.

Rice did not rule out talks with Iran about Iraq, noting there is a channel between the U.S. and Iranian ambassadors to Iraq “that, at some point, it could make sense to activate.” But she made clear she saw little profit in such discussions.

The United States broke ties with Iran after students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday said he was ready to talk to the United States if there was a change of attitude in Washington.

U.S. ALLIES INSULTED

The United States has offered to join European talks with Iran on its nuclear program if Tehran halts its uranium enrichment activities, which Washington believes are aimed at developing atomic weapons. Iran has refused to do so and says its nuclear program is for power generation.

Rice was harshly critical of Syria, saying it was “causing problems of extraordinary proportions in Lebanon,” had undermined Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and had “insulted” U.S. allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

“That is not a very good record on which to suggest that just going and talking to Syria is going to get a change in their behavior,” she said. “There is no indication Syria wishes to be a stabilizing force.”

The United States has diplomatic relations with Syria but recalled its ambassador last year after the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Rice said “right now, it (Syria) appears to have aligned itself with the forces of extremism”.

“I will talk to anybody, anywhere, anytime, under the right circumstances if I think we can make progress,” she added. “But we have had, over the course of this administration, discussions with the Syrians, talks with the Syrians, envoys to the Syrians, and nothing has ever changed in their behavior.”

Saying she had spent recent weeks doing some “deep thinking” about U.S. policy in Iraq, Rice said she did not see any easy solutions to the insurgency and sectarian violence.

“I don’t think that there are any magic bullets about Iraq. This is a complicated place,” she said.

“They are in a very difficult time. It will take some combination of Iraqi responsibility for their politics and also … increased responsibility for their security as well as better help from the neighbors in supporting Iraq as it makes this very difficult transition,” she added.

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