Vol. 5 Num 900 Fri. December 08, 2006  

Iran cautious over US report seeking engagement

Iran has responded cautiously to proposals for the United States to engage its foe directly, as analysts say Tehran waits to see whether President George W Bush embraces the idea and what concessions it can win.

The US bipartisan Iraq Study Group called on Wednesday for a new diplomatic push by Washington, including urging the United States to deal directly with Iraq's neighbours, Iran and Syria.

Bush said he would take the report "very seriously." But the White House also said the president would not be bound by the report's ideas and rejected one-on-one talks with Iran for now.

"Any decision by the United States to withdraw from Iraq does not require any negotiations with Iran or any other country in the region," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told the satellite channel Al Jazeera television.

"(The) report has some important points ... There seems to be at least some aspects of the U.S administration's policy in Iraq which are considered to have been mistaken," he said.

Analysts say Iran is in no hurry to respond more positively at this stage, although some say Tehran would like to talk if it felt it could win security assurances and other concessions.

Washington broke ties with Tehran shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution and past efforts at talks were abortive.

"The Iranians feel confident at the moment that the Americans are really not in a position to impose anything on Iran and also not in a position to solve any issues in Iraq without the help of Iran," said one Iranian political analyst, who asked not be identified.

Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter enjoying an oil windfall, feels it has a strong hand to make demands as US troops battle rising violence in Iraq and the UN Security Council is deadlocked over Iran's atomic plans.

The United States and European nations, who accuse Iran of trying to make nuclear bombs despite Tehran's denials, want to impose sanctions but Russia has sought to reduce any penalties.

Iran is wary Washington could drag it into helping calm Iraq "without giving any concession," the analyst said, adding that talks could happen but "it will be a long process."