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Key Republican Senator Expresses Mixed Feelings About Iran

A key U.S. Senator says Iran continues to pose a threat to global security, despite its vow last week to open its nuclear program to international inspections.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said Iran's agreement last week to suspend uranium enrichment and agree to inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency is a positive step.

But during a committee hearing, Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana said Iran had been caught, as he put it, trying to build nuclear weapons, over a sustained period of time, in violation of its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

"After years of Iranian delay, deception, and denial, the agreement should not lead us into a false sense of security about the Iranian proliferation threat," he said.

Senator Lugar went on to say it is far from clear that additional inspections will prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear capability, because they rely on Tehran telling the truth.

On a separate issue, he also blamed Iran for trying to set back reconstruction efforts in Iraq. "Iran maintains close ties with several Iraqi Shiite Islamic factions, and appears to be instigating these groups to undermine coalition efforts to rebuild Iraq," he said.

Senator Lugar also noted that the United States believes Iran has members of al-Qaida, the terrorist network blamed for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, in its custody. But he said it is not clear if Tehran is sheltering them, holding them as leverage to use in dealing with the United States, or pursuing another agenda.

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who testified at the hearing, agreed with Mr. Lugar's observations. He also added that Iran continues to move some of its intelligence officers across the border into Iraq.

But Mr. Armitage noted that Iran pledged aid for Iraq's reconstruction at last week's donor conference in Madrid. He acknowledged Tehran's support in other areas.

"They share with us one absolute common view: they do not want a bordering state to be one of Sunni extremism, and that is one we absolutely share," he said. "They have done some other positive things at our urging: they have dismantled some Iranian guard posts, for a lack of a better term, that were on the Iraqi side of the border and removed them back to Iran."

Mr. Armitage also raised the possibility of the United States resuming dialogue with the Iranian government. "At the proper time, when it is in our interest, we can engage them," he said.

Secretary Armitage suggested the best approach to dialogue would be on a multi-lateral basis.

Earlier this year, U.S. officials met with Iranian officials in Geneva, but Washington called off a meeting in May because it believed Iran was sheltering members of al-Qaida. In his prepared remarks, Mr. Armitage said U.S.-Iranian relations would not improve until Tehran shared intelligence about al-Qaida members in Iran with Washington.