NEW YORK – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice dismissed a letter that Iran’s president sent to President Bush on Monday, saying the first direct communication from an Iranian leader in 27 years does not help resolve the standoff over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.
Iran’s top nuclear negotiator called the surprise letter a new “diplomatic opening” between the two countries, but Rice said it was not.
“This letter is not the place that one would find an opening to engage on the nuclear issue or anything of the sort,” the top U.S. diplomat said in an interview with the Associated Press. “It isn’t addressing the issues that we’re dealing with in a concrete way.”
Rice said the letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was 17 or 18 pages long and covered history, philosophy and religion.
Rice’s comments were the most detailed response from the United States to the letter, the first from an Iranian head of state to an American president since the 1979 hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
She would not discuss the contents in detail but made clear that the United States would not change its tack on Iran.
“There’s nothing in here that would suggest that we’re on any different course than we were before we got the letter,” Rice said.
The United States has had no diplomatic ties and almost no economic relationship with Iran since the storming of the embassy and the kidnapping of U.S. diplomats.
Rice was using a two-day trip to the United Nations to confer on the international response to Iran, but she said she expected no quick action on sanctions or other measures.
The letter, which was not made public, appeared timed to blunt the U.S. drive for a U.N. Security Council vote this week to restrain the Islamic regime’s nuclear ambitions. It was a striking change after the fiery Ahmadinejad’s campaign to vilify Washington and its allies as bullies.
Iran contends it has the right to process uranium as fuel in nuclear reactors to generate electricity. The United States, Britain and France are concerned that the program is a cover for making nuclear weapons.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush had been briefed on the letter, which the White House received Monday through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran. He would not comment on whether it was actually signed by the Iranian president.
“It does not appear to do anything to address the nuclear concerns” of the international community, McClellan told reporters traveling on Air Force One with Bush to Florida.
The Iranian government spokesman who disclosed the communication did not mention the nuclear standoff and said the missive spoke to the larger U.S.-Iranian conflict.