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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Iran Ready For US Talks Without Preconditions

Tehran (AFP): Iran said on Monday it would be ready to examine positively a request by its arch-enemy the United States for talks but would not accept halting sensitive nuclear activities as a precondition. "If the United States presents a request for negotiations through the official channels and it appears these negotiations are constructive and logical, we are ready to examine this request with a positive eye," chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani told the IRNA agency.

But he added: "Fixing preconditions means that you have already determined the result of negotiations in advance and it is for this reason that such policies have produced no result up to now."

Iran and the United States have had no diplomatic relations since Washington severed ties in 1980 in the wake of the seizure of its embassy in Tehran by Islamist students.

Any official contacts between the two sides would mark a breakthrough in the frozen relations, which have been marked by mutual recriminations and enmity over almost three decades.

However past overtures for talks have stumbled over Iran's right to enrich uranium in its nuclear programme, a process the West fears Iran could use to produce nuclear weapons.

The UN Security Council has imposed limited sanctions against Tehran over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment and world powers were to meet in London on Monday in a bid to thrash out a consensus on further measures.

The United States and Israel accuse Iran of seeking nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the charges, insisting that its atomic programme is peaceful in nature.

While US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has insisted she is ready for talks with her Iranian counterpart, Washington has always maintained Tehran must halt its uranium enrichment activities first.

If Iran froze enrichment "then we can come to the table and we can talk about how to move forward," Rice said in a US weekend television interview.

"We're all prepared to have full-scale negotiations anytime, at any place," she added.

"We do not accord credibility to declarations made through the media," responded Larijani, head of Iran's supreme national security council, who spoke to IRNA from Pretoria where he has held talks with South African leaders.

However Iranian officials have repeatedly rejected the prospect of suspending enrichment, with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday comparing the Iranian nuclear programme to a train without brakes or reverse gear.

"The great powers have to put an end to our worries and respect the right of Iran," said Deputy Foreign Minister Saeed Jalili, according to the Fars news agency.

"We have done what was necessary to put an end to their worries. It is their job now to end our worries and win our confidence," he added.

The remarks on official talks coincide with an upsurge in speculation that the United States is planning air strikes on Iran to thwart its nuclear programme.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday that Moscow was "worried" about the possibility of US military action against Iran.

"We are worried that the forecasts and suppositions of a possible attack on Iran have become more frequent," Lavrov said at a meeting with President Vladimir Putin shown on state television.

Lavrov referred in particular to comments made last week by US Vice President Dick Cheney, who said that "all options are still on the table" for Washington.

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