TEHRAN, Iran – Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote a letter to President Bush proposing "new solutions" to rising international tensions, a move announced Monday apparently timed to avert the possibility of U.N. action against the Islamic regime.
The U.S., along with Britain and France, is pushing for a U.N. Security Council vote this week on a resolution that could eventually lead to sanctions over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
National Intelligence Director John Negroponte said he had not had a chance to read the letter, but suggested the timing was suspect.
"Given the fact that the issue of Iran is before the United Nations at this time, certainly one of the hypotheses you'd have to examine is whether and in what way the timing of the dispatch of that letter is connected with trying in some manner to influence the debate before the Security Council," Negroponte told reporters at a press briefing in Washington.
White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the White House received the letter Monday through the Swiss embassy in Tehran. He would not comment on whether Bush had seen it or whether it was actually signed by the Iranian president.
"It does not appear to do anything to address the nuclear concerns" of the international community, McClellan told reporters traveling on Air Force One with Bush to Florida.
An Iranian government spokesman said the letter, the first from an Iranian head of state to an American president in 27 years, did not mention the nuclear standoff but rather addressed the larger U.S.-Iranian conflict — which dates to the 1979 hostage crisis.
The United States has publicly sought renewed contact with Iran, saying its ambassador in Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, had been authorized to speak to Iranian officials about security in Iraq. The talks, which U.S. officials in Iraq say have not yet taken place, were to be limited to Iraqi issues but also would provide an opportunity to broaden discussions about the U.S.-Iranian relationship.
In Turkey, Iran's top nuclear negotiator said the letter "could lead to a new diplomatic opening" but also warned it contained no softening in Iran's position.
Ali Larijani refused to give details of the letter's content, but said, "Perhaps, it could lead to a new diplomatic opening. It needs to be given some time."
"There is a need to wait before disclosing the content of the letter, let it make its diplomatic way," Larijani said in an interview with Turkey's NTV television.
He said Tehran wants a peaceful solution to growing tensions with the United States, and was in neighboring Turkey, a key U.S. ally in the region, as part of efforts to rally support for Iran's nuclear program ahead of possible Security Council action.
Larijani warned against any U.S. attack on Iran.
"If they have a little bit of a brain, they would not commit such a mistake," he said. "Iran is not Iraq. Iraq was a weak country, it did not have a legitimate government. Iran is a powerful country."
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki delivered the Ahmadinejad letter to the Swiss ambassador on Monday, ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told The Associated Press. The Swiss Embassy in Tehran houses a U.S. interests section.
In the letter, Ahmadinejad proposes "new solutions for getting out of international problems and the current fragile situation of the world," spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham told a news conference.
Elham declined to reveal more, stressing "it is not an open letter." Asked whether the letter could lead to direct U.S.-Iranian negotiations, he replied: "For the time being, it's just a letter."
Ahead of a visit by Ahmadinejad, Indonesia said Monday that it supported Iran's right to pursue peaceful nuclear technology.
Asked about Iran's nuclear program, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said: "Our position is that we support nuclear development for peaceful purposes, specially energy, but we consistently object to nuclear weapons proliferation."
Bush said Friday he was paying close attention to threats made against Israel by Ahmadinejad, who recently questioned Israel's right to exist and said the country should be wiped off the map.
"I think that it's very important for us to take his words very seriously," he told the German newspaper Bild, according to a transcript released Sunday. "When people speak, it is important that we listen carefully to what they say and take them seriously."
Earlier Monday, Larijani said Tehran would like to see a peaceful solution to growing tensions with the United States. He was in Turkey to rally support for Iran's nuclear program ahead of possible Security Council action.
Last week, Larijani went to the United Arab Emirates to reassure its government about Iran's nuclear program, and last month former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani made a similar visit to Kuwait.
The United States is backing efforts by Britain and France to win Security Council approval for a U.N. resolution that would threaten possible further measures if Iran does not suspend uranium enrichment — a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors to generate electricity or material for nuclear warheads.
The Western nations want to invoke Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter that would allow economic sanctions or military action, if necessary, to force Iran to comply with the Security Council's demand that it cease enrichment.
But Russia and China, the other two veto-holding members of the Security Council members, oppose such moves.
Iran claims its nuclear program is strictly for generating electricity and that it requires enrichment to be self-reliant in fuel for nuclear reactors.
On Sunday, Ahmadinejad renewed Iran's threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty if the Security Council imposes sanctions on Tehran.
Ahmadinejad told the official Islamic Republic News Agency that Washington and its allies "don't give us anything and yet they want to impose sanctions on us." He called the threat of sanctions "meaningless."
After arriving in Ankara, Larijani said that "we wish the issue of the nuclear program to be solved through peaceful means."
Larijani said Iran has "no intention to leave" the nonproliferation treaty but added that "if we're threatened ... then we would decide accordingly."
Elham said Monday that Iranians had endured sanctions before. "We're not concerned" about the prospect of U.N. sanctions, he added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.