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Former US Defense Secretary Urges Direct Talks with Iran


Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry is calling on the Bush administration to negotiate directly with Iran, saying he believes that is the only path toward resolving the nuclear crisis. He drew comparisons to his experience dealing with North Korea when he was defense secretary in the Clinton administration in the 1990's.

Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry told an audience at a gathering sponsored by the non-profit Center for National Policy he believes Washington should negotiate with Tehran directly.

"It seems clear that the only hope of getting anything going in those negotiations is to have the U.S. join in direct talks with Iran," he said. "Whether those talks were bilateral or whether they were part of a larger forum seems to me not so important as that they get going and they be direct."

The lead international community negotiators with Iran have been the so-called EU-Three, a grouping made up of Britain, France and Germany. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has continually indicated U.S. support for these efforts. On Sunday, she told the NBC television program Meet the Press Iran's nuclear program is of international concern.

"We're talking about the international community's demand that Iran change its course on the kind of nuclear program that it is pursuing, and that it can then have certain benefits in the international system," she said. "This is not about Iran and the United States. This is an issue between the international community and Iran."

When asked whether the United States is considering a military strike against Iran, Rice said that option is, in her words, "not off the table," but she added that Washington hopes to resolve the issue diplomatically.

Perry said diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis could be modeled on the so-called Six Party Talks, which aims to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue and brings together the United States, North Korea, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. But even within that multilateral context, U.S. and North Korean negotiators have met bilaterally, a feature Perry says could serve as an example for American discussions with Iran.

But he cautioned that neither military nor a diplomatic approach to the Iran issue would be totally successful.

Perry was the Defense Secretary in 1994, when after tense negotiations, the United States and North Korea settled on an accord in which Pyongyang agreed to freeze its plutonium program.

"We could have struck the Pyongyang facility back in 1994. I had a plan on my desk of doing that," he noted. "We could have struck them and taken them out. That would have stopped the Korean program, held it back, maybe five or six years, is the estimate I was given at the time. But in another five or six years, we'd be facing the problem again. Instead, we made a diplomatic agreement. That also was not perfect. But it did stop that facility for eight years, which wasn't bad."

Perry added that, although such accords, in his words, "buy" time, they don't address the root of the problem, which is the overriding desire of countries like North Korea or Iran to have nuclear weapons.

"It [the 1994 accord] didn't buy us everything. It didn't buy us North Korea deciding they really wanted to give up this idea. The same would be true of Iran. Whether we make a diplomatic approach or military approach, unless we find some way of changing Iran's underlying motivations, all we can do is push them off, curtail them."

Perry said trying to get countries like North Korea or Iran to give up their nuclear program will be a difficult undertaking.

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