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US: Nuclear Ambitions Plunging Iran Into Deeper Isolation

A top U.S. diplomat says Iran's new president is pursuing radical policies that are plunging his country into further international isolation. He adds that world patience is running out over Iran's purported nuclear weapons ambitions.

U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said Wednesday that under President Mahmood Ahmadinejad, Iran is pursuing what he called a "highly confrontational and radical" foreign policy that is isolating Iran from the rest of the world.

"The U.S. and the world community are acutely concerned, first and foremost, by Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability," said Mr. Burns. "Increasingly on that issue, Iran stands isolated from the rest of the world. There is no real international debate about Iran's nuclear intentions among the major countries of the world."

Earlier in the day, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki announced that preliminary talks between Iran and the European Union over Tehran's nuclear program will resume by mid-December. Those talks collapsed in August when Iran resumed uranium conversion.

Speaking at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies, Mr. Burns said world opinion is turning against Iran. He said Tehran should treat the negotiations with the Europeans seriously or face possible sanctions at the U.N. Security Council.

"This circle of countries has been widening over the last three to four months," he added. "And Iran should listen to the call for it to return to active and to sustained negotiations with the European countries. If Iran does not do so, it will face at a time of choosing of the international community a Security Council debate. And that debate will reinforce and support the work of the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency]. Our patience, as we have said often in the past and Secretary Rice has said, is not unlimited."

The United States and other countries have accused Iran of secretly planning to construct nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying it only wants nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The United States has not yet mustered enough support to bring the issue immediately before the Security Council, and is thus supporting the European Union negotiating efforts. The talks are aimed at giving Iran trade and other concessions to get Tehran to renounce any ambition to build nuclear arms.

Mr. Burns said Iran lacks credibility and its claim that it only wants peaceful nuclear energy is not believable.

"Iran in essence is like a person who has fallen into bankruptcy," he explained. "He may feel that he has the right to a bank loan, but the bank manager is under no obligation to give him one until he earns back the bank's trust. And that is Iran's fundamental problem. Its plea that its nuclear objectives are entirely peaceful is simply not trusted by most of the rest of the world."

Mr. Burns also reiterated charges that Iran continues to be a state sponsor of terrorism and criticized Tehran's poor human rights record.

Mr. Burns was asked if there was any significance to the Bush Administration's permission to U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad to talk with Iranian officials about the situation in Iraq. Mr. Burns characterized the U.S.-Iranian relationship as "unique, complicated, and difficult," because the two countries have not had diplomatic relations since 1980. But, he added, the freeze has not been total.

"From President Reagan on forward, no [U.S.] government has ever taken a vow of complete diplomatic silence," he noted. "There are ways that you have to communicate. And we choose those ways wisely, we hope, and on a very limited basis. And that has led to some discussions about security issues in various places."

Mr. Burns said the United States has seen what he termed "troubling indications" of Iranian meddling in Iraqi affairs.