WASHINGTON – Former President Clinton said Thursday the U.S. should try talking to Iran about its nuclear weapons ambitions without imposing a lot of conditions.
"If you think you might have trouble with somebody, and God forbid if you think it could lead to a military confrontation, then there needs to be the maximum amount of contact beforehand," Clinton said in an interview with NBC's "Today" show.
The Bush administration has refused to hold direct talks with Iran until it agrees to suspend enrichment of uranium, which the U.S. fears will be used to build nuclear weapons.
"The United States should not be afraid to talk to anyone. They should not be reluctant and shouldn't have too many conditions," said Clinton, who said his own offer to meet with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's predecessor had been rebuffed.
The U.S. and allies have offered Iran a package of incentives in return for its agreement to stop uranium enrichment. But Iran has given no definitive response and missed an Aug. 31 U.N. Security Council deadline to halt uranium enrichment, which Iran says is for generating electricity.
Iran and the United States have had no direct diplomatic relations since 1979. That's when Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and held its occupants hostage for 444 days to protest Washington's refusal to hand over the toppled shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.
President Bush and Ahmadinejad used separate appearances at the U.N. General Assembly in New York this week to spar over Tehran's nuclear program, but they avoided any personal contact.
In May, Ahmadinejad sent a letter seeking a debate with Bush, but it was laced with old grievances against America and included a long list of Iranian demands.
Clinton said although he would like to see more negotiation with Iran, Bush's reluctance to personally meet with Ahmadinejad was understandable.
"I think we should have some contacts with them," Clinton said. "I'm not sure the president is the place to start."
In an interview broadcast Thursday on National Public Radio, Clinton said, " ... I still believe that, based on all my Iranian friends in America, what they say is that the vast majority of Iranian citizens want to have good relationships with the United States and the West and do not want to be at odds."
"But they all believe basically that if any other country has a right to nuclear power, they do too, so we have to work through that and I, I hope we can do it in a peaceful way," he said.