David Axelrod 248.88.
(photo credit: AP)
While the White House contended on Sunday that Iran's president wasn't in charge of his country's foreign policy and said his criticism of Washington was little more than "bloviations," US officials stressed that Washington was still interested in dialogue with the Iranian leadership.
US President Barack Obama's top adviser, David Axelrod, said the US remained open to meeting, alongside its European allies, with Iran in Paris in an effort to curb Teheran's nuclear ambitions.
"Let's be clear that we didn't meddle in the election in Iran," Axelrod said. "The dispute in Iran is between the leadership in Iran and their own people, and plainly, Mr. Ahmadinejad thinks that by fingering the United States, that he can create a political diversion. So I'm not going to entertain his bloviations that are politically motivated."
He said Ahmadinejad's accusations are meant for domestic consumption and to quell unrest after his re-election that his opponents call a fraud.
Axelrod stressed that the Obama administration's willingness to hold diplomatic talks with the Iranian leadership was not to be regarded as a reward.
"We are not looking to reward Iran. We are looking to ... sit down and talk to the Iranians and offer them two paths. And one brings them back into the community of nations, and the other has some very stark consequences," Axelrod said.
But he was careful to signal that the White House doesn't think Ahmadinejad has the final say over Iran's interaction with the West.
"We are also mindful of the fact that the nuclear weapons in Iran and the nuclearization of that whole region is a threat to that country, all countries in the region, and the world. And we have to address that. We can't let that lie," Axelrod said.
Iran has accused the West of stoking unrest, singling out Britain and the United States for alleged meddling. Last week, Iran expelled two British diplomats, and Britain responded in kind. Iran has also said it's considering downgrading diplomatic ties with Britain; the US does not have diplomatic relations with the country.
Axelrod said Teheran faces a choice between engaging the West or facing further isolation in the wake of a presidential election that sent thousands of protesters to the streets amid questions of its validity.
Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, made similar comments on Sunday, saying that Ahmadinejad is falling back on his government's usual strategy of blaming the West and the US in particular for its internal problems.
"This is a profound moment of change. And what Ahmadinejad says to try to change the subject is, frankly, not going to work in the current context, because the people understand that the United States has not been meddling in their internal affairs," she said.
The legitimacy of the government, while questioned by the people of Iran, is not the critical issue for the US goal of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapons capability, Rice said.
"It's in the United States' national interest to make sure that we have employed all elements at our disposal, including diplomacy, to prevent Iran from achieving that nuclear capacity," she said.
Obama and Ahmadinejad upped their war of words over the weekend, trading harsh rhetoric over Iran's actions, and Washington indicated that it was recalibrating its approach of dialogue with the Islamic republic.
The Obama administration has rescinded invitations from early in the spring to Iranian diplomats to attend July 4 celebrations at American embassies around the world, which had constituted a break with years of protocol and a sign of efforts to ease the relations between the two countries in a prelude to direct talks.
And although the White House pointed out that no Iranians had accepted the invitations in any case,
a senior State Department official described engagement as currently "on ice" as the US watches the developments in Iran unfold and reassess how it wants to interact with the leadership.
Since Obama's election, Axelrod, who was chief strategist of the US president's election campaign, has repeatedly stressed the administration's commitment to engage with Middle East leaders.
"The president-elect has said repeatedly that he intends to engage early and aggressively with diplomacy all over the world and using the men and women, the professionals who are in place, who are great, and, where appropriate, special envoys," Axelrod told CNN in January.
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