Iran Welcomes Unconditional Talks on Nukes
TEHRAN, Iran (June 3) - A breakthrough in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program is possible, the republic's president told the U.N. chief Saturday while welcoming unconditional talks with all parties, including the United States.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a speech later Saturday that his government would not rush to judge an incentives package offered by Western countries to persuade Iran to halt its uranium enrichment program.
State television reported that Ahmadinejad spoke by phone to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and told him the crisis could be settled as long as the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency preserved Tehran's right to use atomic energy.
A U.S. offer for negotiations is conditioned on Iran suspending uranium enrichment - a process that can produce both fuel for nuclear reactors that generate electricity and the material for atomic warheads - and allowing international inspections to prove it.
"A breakthrough to overcome world problems, including Iran's nuclear case, would be the equal implementation of the law for all," state TV quoted Ahmadinejad as telling Annan.
Ahmadinejad alluded to the fact that Iran has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which allows signatories to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful uses while promising not to acquire atomic weapons.
The United States and other Western nations suspect Iran's nuclear program is intended to produce weapons. Tehran insists it is only for generating electricity.
In a major policy shift, the United States agreed this week to join France, Britain and Germany in talks with Iran, provided Tehran suspends all suspect nuclear activities. It would be the first major public negotiations between Washington and Tehran in more than 25 years.
Six world powers agreed Thursday to offer Iran a new package of incentives if it gives up uranium enrichment and to impose sanctions if it refuses. Washington warned Friday that Iran does not have much time to respond, suggesting the window could close and be replaced by penalties.
The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, is to hand deliver the proposal to Iranian officials in the next few days.
"We won't make any prejudgement about the proposal to be presented to us ... we won't be in haste to judge it," Ahmadinejad told thousands of people in Iran's capital, Tehran.
"We are after negotiations, but fair and just negotiations. They must be without any conditions," he said in a speech marking the anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.
The incentive package, agreed on by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, carries the threat of U.N. sanctions if Iran remains defiant over continuing uranium enrichment.
"The Iranian nation won't give in to talks that contain threats or conditions that seek to deprive our definite right," Ahmadinejad said.
At an Asian security conference, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Washington was hoping for a positive Iranian response to the incentives package.
The Pentagon chief said he hoped Iran would "recognize the seriousness and substance" of the offer. He added that the United States agreed to the proposals because progress in talks involving Iran and Europe had gotten to a point where they did not seem to be moving forward.
The Vatican, meanwhile, insisted that diplomacy is the only option for resolving the crisis.
The Holy See "is firmly convinced that even the present difficulties can and must be overcome through the diplomatic path, using all means which diplomacy can avail itself of," Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in a statement.
Iran announced April 11 that it had enriched uranium for the first time, using 164 centrifuges. Enrichment can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or material for a warhead - but tens of thousands of centrifuges are needed to do either on a large scale.
Iran has said intends to move toward large-scale enrichment involving 3,000 centrifuges by late 2006 but also indicated it might suspend large-scale uranium enrichment to ease tensions.
iran welcomes unconditional talks on nukes
Published: June 4, 2006, 8:03 am