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US to Shun Iranians at Afghan Donor Conference


A senior Bush administration official said Friday U.S. officials will have no contact with an Iranian delegation at next week's international conference on Afghanistan in London. Recent rhetoric by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has put a further chill on what has been minimal bilateral discourse.

Despite the absence of diplomatic relations between the two countries, U.S. and Iranian officials have had substantive contacts at international conferences in recent years, dealing with Iran's neighbors Iraq and Afghanistan.

However the State Department's third-ranking official says there will be no such dialogue at the Afghanistan donors conference next Tuesday and Wednesday in London.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicolas Burns says Mr. Ahmadinejad is to blame.

"In an environment where the new Iranian president has called for the destruction of Israel, has denied the Holocaust happened as a historical fact, has put Iran on a more radical course in its nuclear policy, has continued Iranian support for terrorism, there's not a lot to talk about," said Mr. Burns.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will lead the U.S. delegation to the Afghan conference. On the eve of that meeting, she will convene next Monday with her counterparts from the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany for a strategy session on Iran's nuclear program.

The private dinner will precede a meeting next week of the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which the United States expects will produce a vote referring the matter to the U.N. Security Council.

Iran, which the United States accuses of having a secret nuclear weapons program, has broken off dialogue on the issue with Britain, France and Germany, and resumed sensitive nuclear activities at two previously-sealed facilities.

The Iranians have tried to head off a Security Council referral, which could lead to international sanctions, and this week expressed renewed interest in an offer by Moscow to enrich uranium for Iranian power reactors on Russian territory.

The Russian offer is seen by U.S. officials as at least a partial answer to international concerns about Iran's nuclear intentions and it drew favorable mention from President Bush at his Thursday news conference.

However Undersecretary Burns says Iran has never fully embraced the Russian proposal and that Tehran's nuclear negotiators Ali Larijani, in talks in Europe, Russia and China this week, continued to insist that Iran has a right, and will exercise that right, to conduct nuclear-fuel cycle activity on its territory.

Undersecretary Burns accused Iran of obfuscation, while at a briefing here State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Iran is merely trying to buy time and avoid a Security Council referral.

"The Iranians have yet to give any tangible indication that they are serious about the Russian proposal," said Mr. McCormack. "The latest statements by Mr. Larijani about the proposal, every single day I read something different coming from him. He's like a sailboat tacking in the wind. One day he's for it. The next day he has a problem with it. So this is just more evidence of Iran trying to game the international system, trying to avoid referral to the Security Council."

U.S. officials have expressed confidence there are enough votes on the 35-nation IAEA board for a referral, though some key members including China and India have not committed to support the move.

Burns said Secretary Rice will seek a consensus at Monday's six-power meeting on a tactical basis to move the issue to the Security Council.

Administration officials have not discussed what sanctions if any, might be sought in the council. They say they hope elevating the issue on the world stage will prompt Iran, finally, to respond tangibly to concern about its nuclear activities.

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