Rice-Iranian Contacts Limited To Brief Encounters Over Meals
Friday, May 4th 2007, 7:04 am
News On 6
SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt (AP) _ Iran's foreign minister boycotted a dinner of diplomats where he was to be seated directly across from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, ostensibly because a female violinist playing at the hotel venue was dressed too revealingly.
``I don't know which woman he was afraid of, the woman in the red dress or the secretary of state,'' State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday.
Rice and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki met earlier at a lunch Thursday but exchanged only pleasantries. Neither appeared ready to make the first move for a real meeting.
``You can ask him why he didn't make an effort,'' Rice told reporters Friday. ``I'm not given to chasing anyone.''
According to Iraq's foreign minister, Iranian and American ambassadors did meet Friday for more serious talks on the sidelines of the conference to stabilize Iraq _ the second such encounter since March 10.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said the ambassadors' meeting was ``positive'' and said the two rival nations, both allies of the Baghdad government, should ease their disputes, which the Iraqis argue are only fueling their country's chaos.
The United States accuses Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons as well as funneling money and weapons the Shiite militias responsible for much of Iraq's violence. Iran denies both accusations and in a speech Friday, Mottaki assailed the United States for the terrorism and violence he said resulted from its ``occupation'' of Iraq, saying the Americans ``should not finger point or put the blame on others.''
Iraq and its neighbors on Friday issued a declaration aimed at rallying support for the Shiite-led government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki from long-reluctant Sunni Arab countries.
Arab nations committed to stop foreign fighters from crossing their territory to join Iraq's insurgency. The Iraqis, in turn, vowed to do more to include Iraq's Sunni Arabs in the political process.
But both sides remained deeply suspicious. ``We will see the extent of the seriousness and commitment among these nations to what they signed today,'' al-Maliki said.
Mottaki's speech to the conference blamed the U.S. military presence for Iraq's turmoil and demanded the release of five Iranians detained by U.S. forces in Iraq in January. Iran claims the five are diplomats.
``There should be no doubt that the continuation of and increase in terrorist acts in Iraq originates from the flawed approaches adopted by the foreign troops,'' Mottaki said. ``The United States must accept the responsibilities arising from the occupation of Iraq.''
Mottaki stayed away from the diplomats' dinner Thursday night, where a place had been set for him across from Rice. Through a translator, Mottaki told reporters Friday that there were problems with ``Islamic standards'' at the gathering. ``There was something wrong with that so I offered my apologies,'' Mottaki said. ``There was no other reason.''
Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit told The Associated Press that Mottaki entered the hotel Thursday night but did come down to the dinner, held in the hotel's beachfront restaurant. Mottaki sat briefly in the lobby, where the violinist was playing, he said.
The Ukrainian violinist, Larissa Abramova, said Friday she did not believe she could have offended Mottaki. She was wearing a red dress with long sleeves that she said she chose for the special occasion of the diplomat's dinner, she knew she would ``look beautiful in it.''
She had a scarf draped over her chest as she played her repertoire of classic pop songs, like the theme to ``Love Story'' and ``Dr. Zhivago.'' She naturally didn't have it over her hair, which is the Islamic dress enforced in Iran but is hardly seen in Sharm el-Sheik, a secular party town where bathing suits are the norm.
``I think the problem (is) not in me and not in my dress,'' Abramova told the Associated Press, speaking in English.
Mottaki, speaking Friday as Rice left Sharm el-Sheik, said there was no time during the conference to meet Rice. He said planning and political will on both sides was needed for a substantive meeting.
``It should be clear what we trying to get from the meeting, what are we going to discuss,'' he said. ``Such meetings should not be something theatrical. They should be substantive.''
He also called U.S. policies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon a ``failure,'' adding, ``These policies have to change.''
Going into the summit, the Iraqi government had hoped for a breakthrough meeting between Rice and Mottaki. Instead, their only direct contact was the wary exchange of pleasantries over lunch Thursday, punctuated by a wry, somewhat mysterious comment by Mottaki.
The Farsi-speaking Iranian, in a diplomatic gesture, greeted officials in Arabic. ``As-salama aleikum,'' he said, meaning peace be upon you.
Rice replied to him in English, ``Hello,'' then added: ``Your English is better than my Arabic,'' according to the Iraqi official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the lunch was private.
Aboul Gheit then piped in, telling Mottaki, ``We want to warm the atmosphere some.''
Mottaki smiled and replied in English with a saying: ``In Russia, they eat ice cream in winter because it's warmer than the weather'' _ more or less meaning, ``You take whatever atmosphere-warming you can get.''
``That's true,'' Rice replied, according to the Iraqi official.
After lunch, Egypt's Aboul Gheit told the AP he would try to arrange a further informal meeting between Rice and Mottaki at a gala dinner being thrown by the Egyptians Thursday night on the beach of a nearby resort hotel.
``Why not?'' Aboul Gheit said. ``It is only one table.'' But asked if he would seat Rice and Mottaki next to each other, he said, ``No, no.''