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Talks With Iran Not Aimed at Normalizing Relations, Says US - 2003-05-14

The Bush administration said Wednesday talks in Geneva between U.S. and Iranian officials are focused on specific issues concerning Iraq and Afghanistan and are not aimed at normalizing relations between the two countries that were broken off in 1979.

White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says Iran continues to engage in "deeply troubling" behavior.

The disclosure of the Geneva talks earlier this week gave rise to speculation that a breakthrough might be imminent in the long-frozen U.S.-Iranian relationship.

But National Security Adviser Rice says the contacts, held periodically over the last several months, have been to address "very specific" matters on Afghanistan, and more recently Iraq, but are not intended to deal with the broader relationship.

Speaking to reporters at Washington's Foreign Press Center, Ms. Rice said that with U.S. forces engaged in two countries bordering Iran, it is understandable that the two sides should have a dialogue to avoid misunderstandings.

"We are in the same neighborhood, so to speak, at this point in time. And so it is important not to have any misunderstandings. But nobody should construe the discussions that are going on in Geneva as discussions that are meant to lead somehow to broad improvement or normalization of relations with Iran. That is not their purpose. These are very, very narrow in scope," said Ms. Rice.

However narrow in scope, the talks the most recent session of which occurred early this month, are apparently at a high level, with the U.S. side represented by President Bush's special envoy for Iraq and Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad.

The Bush administration has made no secret of its concern that Iran may be trying to mobilize Iraq's majority Shiites to press for an Iranian-style theocratic government in Baghdad.

Ms. Rice said the United States realizes that Iran has interests concerning its neighbor, but said it should not try to subvert the process of forming a new government there.

"We expect Iran to behave toward the new Iraqi government as a good neighbor in a transparent way," she said. "We understand Iran is a neighbor of Iraq just like Iran is a neighbor of Afghanistan. And of course it's going to have relations with those countries. But they need to be transparent state-to-state relations. Not relations that are aimed surreptitiously at importing the Iranian form of government into Iraq."

The key White House aide said Iran continues to engage in behavior on several fronts that is "deeply troubling" and "antithetical to U.S. interests."

She said that country is one of the chief state sponsors of terrorism, lending support to Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and to so-called "rejectionist" Palestinian factions at a time when the United States is trying to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

She also said there "are concerns" that the al-Qaida terror organization is operating in Iran.

Ms. Rice further said that the February visit to Iranian nuclear sites by International Atomic Energy Agency officials has only added to what she said were suspicions, backed by abundant evidence, that Iran has a covert nuclear weapons program.

She said she hopes the IAEA takes a "very tough" approach in making sure that questions about Iran's nuclear intentions are answered. The IAEA governing board is to meet on the issue next month in Vienna.