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Kissinger backs direct U.S. negotiations with Iran

LONDON (Bloomberg) -- Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger said the U.S. should negotiate directly with Iran over its nuclear program and other bilateral issues.

“One should be prepared to negotiate, and I think we should be prepared to negotiate about Iran,” Kissinger, who brokered the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur war and peace talks with the North Vietnamese, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. Asked whether he meant the U.S. should hold direct talks, Kissinger, 84, responded: “Yes, I think we should.”

There has been no response so far from Iran, he said.

“I’ve been in semi-private, totally private talks with Iranians,” he said. “They’ve had put before them approaches that with a little flexibility on their part would, in my view, surely lead to negotiations.” He didn’t elaborate on who was engaged in the talks.

The Bush administration pursues a policy of diplomatic pressure on Iran at the United Nations and unilateral sanctions to weaken its access to the international banking system. There has been no direct contact between the U.S. and Iran since the 1979 Iranian revolution, except for talks in Baghdad on Iraqi security between their ambassadors or technical experts.

Democratic presidential contender Senator Barack Obama has said he would meet with U.S. adversaries such as the leaders of Iran without conditions.

Iran maintains its enrichment of uranium is needed for nuclear power, while the U.S. claims the project is cover for weapons development.

“It’s not really the willingness to talk, it’s so far the inability to define what we are trying to accomplish,” Kissinger said. “The negotiations depend on a balance of incentives and penalties. Have we got those rights at every point? Not at every point.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a few days ago that Admiral William Fallon would be stepping down as head of Central Command in the Persian Gulf, provoking criticism that Bush won’t tolerate dissent and feeding speculation his Iran policy could become more confrontational. Fallon once referred to tough White House rhetoric on Iran as “not helpful and not useful.”

Kissinger’s comments came on the eve of Friday’s parliamentary voting in Iran.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner said any direct talks between the U.S. and Iran on issues such as the nuclear dispute would be most likely to succeed if they first involved only diplomatic staff and progressed to the level of secretary of state before the heads of state meet.

“If Iran is a nation and wants to be respected as a nation we will and must find a way to coexist with it,” he said.

“If Iran wanted a settlement to be reached, we would have an obligation on our part to come up with a reasonable position. I do not believe that regime change can be an objective of our foreign policy.”


 

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