Iranians Fault Rice's Dismissal of Letter

The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 10, 2006; 2:12 AM

TEHRAN, Iran -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's abrupt dismissal of a letter from Iran's president might only strengthen hardline attitudes and mistrust of America, some Iranians warned Tuesday.

As President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad began a high-profile visit to a key Muslim country, Indonesia, a former top Iranian official said Rice's response will give new justification to those who oppose ties with the U.S.

Iran's former ambassador to France, Sadeq Kharrazi, said the letter _ the first from an Iranian head of state to an American president in 27 years _ "could have been a turning point in relations." But he said Rice squandered the opportunity with what he called a "hasty reaction."

"This gives a pretext to those in Iran who oppose re-establishment of ties with America," he said.

Ahmadinejad's 18-page letter to President Bush touched only indirectly on the hottest dispute between the two countries _ Iran's nuclear program. Instead, it focuses on a long list of grievances against the United States and seeks to build on a shared faith in God to resolve them.

Rice told The Associated Press the letter "isn't addressing the issues that we're dealing with in a concrete way."

Iranian political analyst Saeed Leilaz said Rice's quick brushoff would fuel anti-American feelings in Iran.

"It could have been the beginning of a new process," he said. Rice's response "strengthens the suspicion (inside Iran) that the U.S. is thinking of a military option only and not a political solution" to the standoff over Iran's nuclear program, he said.

As he boarded a plane for Indonesia on Tuesday, Ahmadinejad said his letter contained "the demands of Iranian people and our nation."

"I discussed our views, beliefs and positions regarding international issues as well as some ways out of problems humanity is suffering from," he told the official Islamic Republic News Agency. "We will wait for reaction ... and then we'll make decisions."

He arrived hours later in Indonesia _ the world's most populous Muslim nation, which has friendly ties with the U.S. and European countries _ where he was welcomed by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

After meeting with the Indonesian leader, Ahmadinejad insisted that his country's nuclear program was peaceful and that Iran will "absolutely not back out" of defending its right to pursue new technology.

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