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US Senators Call for Direct Talks with Iran


Iran's recent announcement it has developed enriched uranium for its nuclear program will be under discussion this week as G-8 diplomats meet in Moscow. Meanwhile some U.S. senators say it's time for direct talks with Teheran on a number of issues.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stirred up more controversy this weekend as he met with the Palestinian leader of Hamas, Khaled Mashaal. President Ahmadinejad said Iran was giving the Palestinian Authority $50 million U.S. to counter the cutoff in financial aid from the United States and other western countries.

The aid was eliminated when Hamas refused to renounce violence and recognize Israel. Iran has long had close ties with Hamas, which won the most seats in the Palestinian legislative elections in January.

Meanwhile, U.S. senators are weighing in on the possibility of direct talks versus a long-range option of sanctions against Iran:

Democrat Chris Dodd says, "I don't think we've been muscular enough, if you will, on the diplomatic front. I don't disagree that we ought to leave the military option on the table, but I don't think we've been working hard enough on the diplomacy side of this."

Another Democrat, Senator Evan Bayh, did not rule out the idea of economic sanctions against oil-rich Iran.

"Sanctions are not a panacea, but if we were to, for example, to cut off their gasoline imports, they derive 40 percent of their gasoline from other countries: heavy machinery from Japan, Germany and elsewhere, that they're dependent on, freezing their financial assets, a travel embargo."

Republican Senator Richard Lugar, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee called for restraint on both sides.

"The rhetoric has been pretty hot and heavy with the president of Iran on TV constantly. It appears to me they're not making that much headway. And we need to make more headway diplomatically."

In an exclusive interview with VOA, a former Bush administration official, Richard Haass said the U.S. and Iran have much to discuss in a face-to-face meeting.

"I would like to see the dialogue be comprehensive. That way the United States could raise all the issues that's of concern to it ... including nuclear weapons ... terrorism ... what's going on in Iraq ... what's going on in Afghanistan ... and at the same time I believe the Iranian government should be able to raise all the issues that it wants to raise ... that it wants to have discussed. In general, I do not believe that any useful purpose is served by not communicating."

Monday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan maintained the Bush administration's view that any action on Iran must come from the United Nations.

"This is a regime that is only further isolating itself by its recent announcements and its continuing behavior. And it's time to address this matter at the Security Council if they're going to continue on that course."

The UN's nuclear watchdog agency will report on Iran's nuclear program April 28th.

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