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Iran not ready to open dialogue with US

TEHRAN -- Iran rejected a US overture for talks between the estranged nations, saying yesterday that Washington must first end its hostile policy toward the Islamic state.

The Bush administration indicated Friday that it wants to talk with Iran about its nuclear program, human rights, and terrorism. But Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said the Iranians weren't swayed by what they view as a lopsided proposal.

"Right now there are no plans to commence a dialogue," Kharrazi said at a news conference yesterday.

President Bush branded Iran as part of an "axis of evil," along with North Korea and Iraq under the Saddam Hussein regime, but Washington sent aid to Iran after a deadly earthquake last month and has expressed hopes for a diplomatic opening.

Iran accepted the help following the quake that killed more than 30,000 people in the ancient city of Bam, but it turned down a US proposal for more aid to be brought in by a high-profile team led by Senator Elizabeth Dole, Republican of North Carolina and former president of the American Red Cross.

Iran has accused Washington of grandstanding on the aid with no change of heart over the differences between the two sides. The two countries broke ties after radical students seized the US Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held Americans hostage.

"What is important is mutual respect and the principle of equality, in a healthy atmosphere without violence," Kharrazi said. "For this to happen, the United States must change its policy toward Iran."

On Friday, US Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Iran's acceptance of US aid after the Bam earthquake had opened up opportunities for dialogue between the foes, although there was no reason to expect a quick rapprochement.

But that same day, Iran's influential former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, said Bush's repeated accusations against Iran had undermined a possible thaw.

"Our initial analysis [after the earthquake] was that they wanted to pave the way for negotiations and resolving the problems," Rafsanjani said on state radio. "Their main mistake was that Mr. Bush started to repeat the old allegations about Iran and weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, human rights, and the Middle East conflict."

Meanwhile, Turkey's foreign minister met with Kharrazi yesterday over mutual concerns that Iraqi Kurds could exploit the evolving situation in Iraq to establish an independent Kurdish state.

Earlier this week, Syria's president visited Turkey and also backed the Turkish position.

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