Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice discussed strategy on the Iranian nuclear issue, late Monday, in New York with colleagues from the other permanent United Nations Security Council member countries and Germany. Earlier, she said a letter to President Bush from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not a diplomatic breakthrough.
The Iranian letter - the first of its kind since the United States and Iran broke off relations in 1979 - somewhat overshadowed Secretary Rice's late-night strategy session with foreign ministers of the other veto-wielding Security Council member states and Germany.
Although Iran's top nuclear negotiator called the surprise message from the Iranian president a new diplomatic opening, American officials were dismissive.
Rice told Associated Press interviewers the letter was 17 or 18 pages long and covered history, philosophy and religion but did not address the nuclear issue in any concrete way.
A White House spokesman said President Bush was briefed on the contents of the letter while on a trip to Florida and that it did not address the issues between Iran and the international community.
Other administration officials said the move by Iran might have been aimed at complicating U.S. efforts to get a binding Security Council resolution demanding that Iran end uranium enrichment. Among them was Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte, who spoke to reporters at the White House.
"Given the fact that the issue of Iran is before the United Nations at this time, certainly one of the hypotheses you'd have to examine is whether and in what way the timing of the dispatch of that letter is connected with trying, in some manner, to influence the debate before Security Council," said Negroponte.
Rice met over dinner late Monday with the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Russia and China, in a bid for consensus on a Security Council resolution demanding that Iran end uranium enrichment and return to nuclear negotiations.
Germany, a partner with Britain and France in the EU Three nuclear initiative with Iran, also took part in the meeting at a New York hotel, as did European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana.
A State Department spokesman says Rice met privately with the other ministers for about two hours before they were joined by others in their delegations. He says they discussed the nuclear issue and broader strategic goals with regard Iran and that the Ahmadinejad letter was raised by the secretary of state.
China and Russia have balked at a draft by Britain and France that would make the demand on Iran binding under Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter, even though it includes no immediate call for sanctions.
Before the dinner meeting, China's U.N. ambassador Wang Guangya says his government remains adamant against a Chapter Seven resolution and wants the European sponsors to eliminate any reference to possible future sanctions or military action against Iran.