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Key US Senator Backs Direct Talks With Iran

A top Republican in the U.S. Senate says the Bush administration should hold direct talks with Iran on Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Senator Richard Lugar, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says direct talks with Iran could be helpful.

"I think that it would be useful," he said.

During an appearance on the ABC television program This Week, the Indiana Republican also stressed the need for direct U.S. talks with Russia and China about the best way to put pressure on Iran. Both countries are permanent veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council and have made clear they are reluctant to impose sanctions on Tehran. Lugar suggested it might be best to intensify diplomacy and put any discussion of sanctions aside for the time being.

"I believe for the moment, that we ought to cool this one too," he added. "The rhetoric has been pretty hot and heavy with the president of Iran on TV constantly. It appears to me that they [the diplomats] are not making that much headway and we need to make more headway diplomatically."

The Bush administration has long maintained that the best way to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue is through a multilateral approach. It has supported negotiations led by three European nations - Britain, France and Germany - and urged action by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Security Council.

One strong congressional supporter of the president's strategy is Senator Mitch McConnell. The Kentucky Republican split with Senator Lugar on the issue, explaining his view on the Fox television network's Fox News Sunday program.

"When the president went into Iraq, they accused him of being too unilateral. And now, he is applying a multilateral approach in Iran and they say it ought to be unilateral in Iran. Nobody seriously thinks there is a unilateral solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis," said McConnell.

But the stand espoused by Senator Lugar got some strong support on U.S. television from a leading Senate Democrat, Christopher Dodd of Connecticut. He also appeared on Fox News Sunday.

"The Iranians have been very interested for us to be very directly involved, with the Europeans or not," he commented. "The point is we almost have no contact at all. They are asking us to sit down and talk about Iraq with them because they are concerned about that. That is an opening."

Meanwhile, two former members of the White House National Security Council have weighed in with their opinion on the use of military force against Iran. In an article written for the New York Times newspaper, Richard Clarke and Steven Simon warned against such action, saying it could be more damaging to U.S. interests than the struggle in Iraq.

President Bush has maintained he wants to resolve the matter diplomatically, though military action is always an option. He told a group of foreign policy students last week that in the case of Iran, multilateral diplomacy remains the best course, playing down media reports alleging military planning for a possible attack is under way.

Iran has maintained its nuclear program is purely civilian in nature and is designed to generate electricity. But the United States and its allies have argued that civilian program is really a cover for the development of nuclear arms.