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White House Questions Iran's OK on Talks
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The Bush administration questioned on Wednesday the motives of Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in approving US-proposed talks on Iraq, but did not shut the door entirely.

"It is a matter of curious timing," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, suggesting Iran was trying to deflect international pressure from its nuclear programs now under critical discussion at the United Nations.

While a "channel" for communication between the United States and Iran remains open, he said, no meetings have been scheduled.

Khamenei's statement on Tuesday was the first confirmation that he supports having talks. He also warned the United States must not try to "bully" Iran.

President Bush months ago initiated a diplomatic effort to hold talks with Iran over its activities in Iraq. The administration considers Iran meddlesome and accuses it of supporting insurgent militia with weapons.

When Iran last week signaled its willingness to talk, however, Bush's national security adviser, Steven J. Hadley, dismissed the overture as a play designed to divert pressure and attention from nuclear programs the United States and its European allies charge are designed to develop nuclear weapons.

In similar reaction on Wednesday, McCormack said: "I find it very interesting that the Iranian regime has chosen this particular time to seek to communicate with the United States government through this channel of communication, where this channel of communication has been open for some time."

The spokesman went on: "We think it has more to do with Iran's desire to decrease the pressure on the regime and to divert attention from the ongoing discussions about the topic of Iran's nuclear program that we're watching unfold up in New York.

"We think it has more to do with that and less to do with an actual desire to communicate with the United States government on issues concerning Iraq."

(Chinadaily.com via agencies March 23, 2006)

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