Iran, Washington in contact via Greece

Athens refuses to comment; Greek, US officials not denying report.

caramanlis, villepin 298 (photo credit: AP)
caramanlis, villepin 298
(photo credit: AP)
Iran has turned to Greece to convey messages to the United States regarding its contentious nuclear program and other disputes, officials said Friday. Their comments suggested Teheran might be willing to engage Washington in an effort to thwart momentum toward a UN Security Council resolution that could hit Teheran with sanctions over its nuclear defiance.
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US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack on Wednesday confirmed the existence of "ad-hoc channels ... going back over the past year" that allow Washington and Teheran to speak through third parties. He did not go into specifics. But on Friday a US official familiar with the contacts named Greece as a conduit, telling AP: "The Greeks have been active as a liaison." Athens refused to officially comment, but a senior government figure told AP his country did not deny such activity. Both he and the US official demanded anonymity in exchange for commenting on the sensitive issue and declined to discuss specifics. Greece has "good connections" in Iran, said the US official. The two countries have had good relations for years and have signed numerous agreements in the last two decades ranging from energy to fighting terrorism. Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis has met with both US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Teheran's chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, in recent weeks. She was not immediately available for comment. Two other officials contacted by AP - both based in Vienna and familiar with the Iranian talks - said Greece was not alone in being asked to act as an intermediary over the past two years. "The Iranians have made it very clear that they want to have that dialogue, and they are using every available means to deliver that message," said a senior diplomat accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency. "The trouble is, the other side is not amenable." IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has denied being asked to mediate after his offer two years ago to do so was rebuffed by the United States. But a UN official said ElBaradei has represented the Iranian standpoint to the Americans several times in the past and even mentioned Iran's interest in bilateral talks this week to Rice. ElBaradei, traveling in the United States Friday, could not be reached for comment. Switzerland has formally represented US diplomatic interests in Iran since the two countries severed ties after Iranian radicals stormed the US Embassy in Teheran in 1979.