- The Washington Times - Friday, March 17, 2006

The White House said yesterday that the United States is willing to talk with Iran about the U.S.-led war in Iraq on the same day that the Bush administration declared that America “may face no greater challenge from a single country than Iran.”

The decision to allow talks with Tehran, which has taken an increasingly belligerent stance against the United States, comes just days after President Bush blamed Iran for supplying some of the explosives that Iraq’s insurgents are using against coalition forces.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, has been “authorized to speak with Iranians,” Bush spokesman Scott McClellan said. “But this is a very narrow mandate dealing specifically with issues relating to Iraq.”

The spokesman ruled out discussions on U.S. concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

“That’s a separate issue,” he said. “The nuclear issue is being discussed at the United Nations among diplomats of the Security Council.”

Although Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns said the United States is trying to “isolate” Iran and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the White House will allow the talks to “express our concerns we have about their involvement inside Iraq,” Mr. McClellan said.

Iraqi Shi’ite leader Abdul Aziz al-Hakim had urged Shi’ite Iran to become involved in the talks in an effort to address U.S. accusations that Iran is meddling in Iraq.

“We will accept the proposal to help resolve the problems in Iraq and establish an independent government there as it was made by Mr. Hakim,” said Ali Larijani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator and secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council.

The move marks a major shift in Iranian foreign policy, just as the United Nations is weighing action to punish the nation for its nuclear ambitions.

Also yesterday, the White House released the National Security Strategy, a 49-page document that sketches Mr. Bush’s plan for protecting America and directing U.S. relations with other nations. The strategy reaffirms the “Bush doctrine” of pre-emption and singles out Iran as one of the greatest dangers to America.

“We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran. For almost 20 years, the Iranian regime hid many of its key nuclear efforts from the international community,” the document says. “Yet the regime continues to claim that it does not seek to develop nuclear weapons.”

The document, which calls Iran a “tyrannical regime,” expresses deep concern that it continues “to harbor terrorists at home and sponsor terrorist activity abroad.”

“As important as are these nuclear issues, the United States has broader concerns regarding Iran. The Iranian regime … threatens Israel; seeks to thwart Middle East peace; disrupts democracy in Iraq; and denies the aspirations of its people for freedom,” the document says.

Although the document says the United States must wait until Iran “makes the strategic decision to change these policies,” it adds that “we will continue to take all necessary measures to protect our national and economic security against the adverse effects of their bad conduct.”

The report refers to Mr. Bush’s preference for diplomacy to stem the spread of nuclear weapons, but it did not back away from the central tenet laid out in the 2002 report — pre-emption.

“The president believes that we must remember the clearest lesson of September 11 — that the United States of America must confront threats before they fully materialize,” National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley said.

Mr. Bush also had tough words for North Korea, which with Iran and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq made up the “axis of evil” outlined in 2002. He said the communist country poses a serious nuclear proliferation challenge, counterfeits U.S. currency, traffics in narcotics, threatens its neighbors and starves its people.

Mr. Bush also rebuked Russia and China and called Syria a tyranny that harbors terrorists and sponsors terrorist activity.

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