NEW YORK – Iran's president declared in a letter to President Bush that democracy had failed worldwide and lamented "an ever-increasing global hatred" of the U.S. government. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice swiftly rejected the letter, saying it made no progress toward resolving questions about Tehran's suspect nuclear program.
"This letter is not the place that one would find an opening to engage on the nuclear issue or anything of the sort," Rice said. "It isn't addressing the issues that we're dealing with in a concrete way."
Rice's comments were the most detailed response from the United States to the letter, the first from an Iranian head of state to an American president since the 1979 hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
The letter from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made only an oblique reference to Iran's nuclear intentions. It asked why "any technological and scientific achievement reached in the Middle East region is translated into and portrayed as a threat to the Zionist regime."
Otherwise, it lambasted Bush for his handling of the Sept. 11 attacks, accused the media of spreading lies about the Iraq war and railed against the United States for its support of Israel. It questioned whether the world would be a different place if the money spent on Iraq had been spent to fight poverty.
"Would not your administration's political and economic standing have been stronger?" the letter said. "And I am most sorry to say, would there have been an ever- increasing global hatred of the American government?
Iran's top nuclear negotiator called the surprise letter a new "diplomatic opening" between the two countries, but Rice said it failed to resolve the dispute over the Iranian nuclear program — the focus of intense U.N. Security Council debate this week. White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Bush had been briefed on the letter, which the White House received Monday through the Swiss Embassy in Tehran.
"There's nothing in here that would suggest that we're on any different course than we were before we got the letter," Rice said.
Even though the letter hardly touched on nuclear issues, officials said it appeared timed with a push by the United States, Britain, France and Germany for a Security Council vote to restrain the Islamic regime's nuclear ambitions. Both China and Russia are opposed to leveling sanctions against Iran and the letter could provide them support.
Rice, who said she expected no quick action on sanctions, met privately for more than two hours Monday night on Iran with foreign ministers from the other permanent members of the council.
Her spokesman gave no details of the substance of the discussions, but described the talks as strategic and not focused on specific steps.
The United States is concerned that Iran's program is a cover for making nuclear weapons, while Iran contends it has the right to process uranium as fuel in nuclear reactors to generate electricity.
In the letter, Ahmadinejad says that people around the world have lost faith in international institutions and questions whether the Bush administration has covered up some evidence surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks.
Liberalism and Western-style democracy "have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity," said the letter, obtained late Monday by The Associated Press. "Today these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the Liberal democratic systems."
The Iranian government spokesman who disclosed the communication did not mention the nuclear standoff and said the missive spoke to the larger U.S.-Iranian conflict. Gholam-Hossein Elham said the letter proposed "new solutions for getting out of international problems and the current fragile situation of the world."
Yet the document makes no concrete proposals and does not suggest new talks. Instead, Ahmadinejad suggests that Bush should look inward, saying there was an increasing hatred worldwide of the United States, and that history shows how "repressive and cruel governments do not survive."
"How much longer will the blood of the innocent men, women and children be spilled on the streets, and people's houses destroyed over their heads? Are you pleased with the current condition of the world? Do you think present policies can continue?"
The letter was the lead item on several Iranian television and radio news shows throughout the day. The official IRNA announced it and also carried international reaction to it. Iran's only evening daily, the state-owned Ettalaat, carried a large story on its front page under the headline: "Important letter from Ahmadinejad to the American president."
In Turkey, Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, said the Iranians were looking for a positive response but would be patient.
"Perhaps it could lead to a new diplomatic opening. It needs to be given some time," Larijani said in a television interview.
Ahmadinejad travels Tuesday to Indonesia, which has expressed support for nuclear energy development but opposition to nuclear weapons.