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Clinton doubts Iran will respond to overtures

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is “doubtful” that Iran will respond to U.S. overtures of engagement when they are made, a senior State Department official said on Monday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is shown with George Mitchell, U.S. special envoy to the Middle East peace process, after the opening of International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Economy and Reconstruction of Gaza, in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh March 2, 2009. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Clinton had told her counterpart from the United Arab Emirates that the United States was under “no illusion” over Iran, which the West suspects of building a nuclear bomb.

“She (Clinton) said she is doubtful that Iran will respond to any kind of engagement and opening the hand out and reaching out to them,” said the official, who was speaking on the sidelines of an international donors’ conference for Gaza in Egypt, where Clinton held a series of bilateral meetings.

In a change of policy from the Bush administration, U.S. President Barack Obama has said he would be open to engaging with Iran on a range of issues, from its nuclear ambitions to how it could help in Afghanistan.

Clinton, speaking after the donors’ conference, said Washington was going to continue consulting with its friends on Iran.

“We have made our point to the people here in Egypt and Jordan as well as in the Gulf and elsewhere that, as President Obama said, we are willing to extend a hand if the other side unclenches its fist in order to have some process of engagement,” she told a news conference.

“But it will only be done in close consultation with our friends.”

The administration has also threatened to increase pressure on Iran via more sanctions if Tehran does not cooperate and give up its sensitive nuclear work. Tehran denies it is building an atomic bomb and says its work is for civilian power purposes.

The Obama administration has not made a formal offer yet for talks and is doing a full review of its policy towards Iran, including the possibility of opening up a low-level diplomatic office in Tehran as well as engagement.

“We will be consulting with regional leaders and listening. She (Clinton) said our eyes are wide open with regard to Iran,” the state department official said of Clinton’s conversation with UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahayan.

“The secretary said ‘be confident that you will be privy to our strategy and be consulted’,” the official quoted Clinton as telling the UAE minister.