The Bush administration is making clear it is not changing its policy on dialogue with Iran. It says the latest remarks by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the country's nuclear program should deal a jolt to those who doubt the country's nuclear weapons ambitions.
The comments from the State Department followed an assertion Tuesday by Mr. Ahmadinejad that Tehran will soon have mastered the production of nuclear fuel, through an enrichment effort Iranian officials say will eventually involve more than 50-thousand centrifuges.
The Iranian leader said the world had come to terms with the idea of Iran having a complete fuel cycle for its nominally-peaceful nuclear program.
However State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States does not buy the notion that Iran's intentions are peaceful, and neither does the International Atomic Energy Agency or the U.N. Security Council:
"It should be a cold jolt to the rest of the world when you have the president of Iran talking about the fact that their program is to go to industrial scale, thousands and thousands of centrifuges. That is not something the rest of the world wants to see, because what that leads to is an Iranian nuclear weapon, which would be an incredibly destabilizing event."
There have been calls from Democrats in the U.S. Congress, since their election victory last week, for dialogue with both Iran and Syria as the Bush administration reviews its Iraq policy.
News reports said that British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a similar suggestion in a policy speech Monday, though the White House energetically disputed the idea of a rift with Mr. Blair or that he had strayed from a refusal to engage with Iran unless it halts enrichment.
The White House took the unusual step of issuing a written critique of news reporting of the Blair speech, highlighting an assertion by the British leader himself that it was a "fundamental misunderstanding" to conclude he was proposing a policy change on Iran and Syria.
Mr. Blair did say a region-wide policy was needed to bring Arab moderates together to help resolve the Iraq crisis, starting with efforts to deal with what he called the core problem in the area, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Spokesman McCormack said the international "quartet" on Middle East peacemaking - the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations - will convene a meeting of senior officials Wednesday in Cairo to discuss efforts to revive dialogue between the parties.
However, he said the meeting was set before the Blair speech and prior to the U.S. election, which featured calls by Democrats to revive Middle East diplomacy.
The United States will be represented in Cairo by Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch, who will also meet with Egyptian officials. The State Department says Welch will be joined later this week by White House Middle East policy chief Elliott Abrams for talks with Jordanian officials in Amman.
The meetings are expected to focus on Palestinian efforts to form a new power-sharing government that would diminish the role of the radical Islamic movement Hamas and perhaps meet "Quartet" terms for new peace talks, including recognizing Israel and renouncing violence.