May 8, 2006

Iran writes Bush letter to ease tension

By Parisa Hafezi

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
has written to President Bush in an unprecedented attempt to
ease mounting tensions between Tehran and the West, an Iranian
official said on Monday.

The letter is the first publicly announced personal
communication from an Iranian premier to a U.S. president since
Washington-Tehran ties were broken after the 1979 Islamic
revolution, a former presidential official said.

Iran has been referred to the U.N. Security Council over
fears it is building nuclear arms, a charge Iran denies.
Washington says it would prefer a diplomatic solution to the
crisis but warns sanctions and military strikes are options.

Government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham said the nuclear
dispute was one of a number of topics broached in the letter.
He declined to say whether the letter included an offer of
direct talks with the United States.

"In this letter, he has given an analysis of the current
world situation, of the root of existing problems and of new
ways of getting out of the current delicate situation in the
world," he told a weekly news conference.

Oil fell below $70 a barrel on Monday on hopes that tension
over Iran's nuclear ambitions would now ease.

Iranian state radio quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid
Reza Asefi as saying the letter had been delivered to the Swiss
Embassy in Tehran, which represents U.S. interests in Iran.

But state television, reporting from the Foreign Ministry,
said the letter had yet to be delivered to Swiss diplomats.

Past Iranian public messages to the United States have been
sharp rebukes, accusing Washington of bullying over Tehran's
nuclear program and of imperialistic intervention in Iraq.


The United States and Iran severed diplomatic ties in 1980,
in a crisis after radical students stormed the U.S. embassy in
Tehran and seized 52 Americans and held them for 444 days.

Ahmadinejad's letter is one of the most open attempts to
directly address the United States since the 1979 Islamic

Iranian and U.S. officials met secretly many times in the
1980s, famously during the "Iran Contra" scandal when
Washington sold Iran arms for help freeing U.S. hostages in

President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani made an open overture to
the United States in 1995, offering U.S. firm Conoco a $1
billion natural gas deal. President Bill Clinton rebuffed him.

U.S. officials often cite Iran's implacable hostility
toward Israel as a key obstacle to restoring ties.

More than any of his recent predecessors, Ahmadinejad has
raised hackles in the United States, by asserting that Israel
should be "wiped off the map." Bush told Germany's Bild am
Sonntag newspaper such comments should be seen as a serious
threat to Israel and other countries.

Israel lies within range of Iranian ballistic missiles.

Ahmadinejad also said the Holocaust, in which six million
Jews were killed by the Nazis, was a myth.

U.S. and Iranian officials have said they are willing to
hold talks focusing solely on co-operation to end the bloodshed
in Iraq. But Ahmadinejad has said such talks are not needed.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central
Asian Affairs Richard Boucher repeated Washington's interest in
a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff during a visit on
Monday to the Central Asian state of Tajikistan.

"Unfortunately the Iranian government, particularly this
new government, is a source of instability in many ways," he
told reporters in the Tajik capital Dushanbe.

(Additional reporting by Parinoosh Arami)