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Two senators say US should pursue nuclear talks with Tehran

WASHINGTON -- The United States needs to pursue direct talks and other diplomatic avenues with Iran about its disputed nuclear program before considering a military option, lawmakers from both parties said yesterday.

''I think that would be useful," said Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, when asked on ABC's ''This Week" about having direct talks.

''The Iranians are a part of the energy picture," said Lugar, a Republican from Indiana. ''We need to talk about that."

Senator Christopher Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, agreed, saying the United States has ceded too much diplomacy to Europe.

''I happen to believe you need direct talks," Dodd said on ''Fox News Sunday." ''It doesn't mean you agree with them. It doesn't mean you support them. It doesn't mean you have formal diplomatic relations. But there's an option."

The Bush administration has warned Iran to comply with worldwide insistence to back off its nuclear program and said it had a ''number of tools," including a military option, if Tehran did not cease uranium enrichment activities.

However, while the administration has said it would talk with Iran about its activities in Iraq, it has rejected the idea of direct negotiations over its nuclear program. The concern is that Iran is seeking to build a nuclear bomb, an allegation Tehran denies.

Saying the United States is ''still in a diplomatic phase," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has cited an April 28 deadline that the UN Security Council has given Iran to back off its program.

But Russia and China, which as permanent members of the Security Council hold veto power, have said they oppose sanctions.

Lugar said it made sense to consider Iran talks, while also dealing with Russia and China to sway their positions on the Security Council.

''There are issues there which, ironically, we may come out on the same side with some of the Iranians," said Lugar.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, denounced the possibility of using nuclear bombs against Iran as a preemptive measure, noting that the US intelligence on Iran's capability ''is not good."

A New Yorker magazine report earlier this month suggested the administration was planning for a strike with nuclear bombs against Iran's underground nuclear sites. President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld have dismissed the report as wild speculation, although they haven't ruled out a military option.

''I don't know why we would even talk about using tactical nuclear weapons when we haven't directly spoken with the Iranians. It doesn't make sense," Feinstein said.

Republican Duncan Hunter of California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said on CNN that a move to have direct talks is the president's call. ''This should not be a United States go-it-alone operation if we have to take military action, and that's the real challenge," he said.

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