TEHRAN Iran said on Monday it rejected any preconditions for talks with the United States, which suspects it wants an atomic bomb, and a member of parliament was quoted as saying Tehran planned 19 nuclear power plants.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki made clear Iran's position on talks three days after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington was open to better ties and talks with Iran if it suspended sensitive nuclear work.
"After the publication of a report by America's intelligence organizations, U.S. officials have talked of negotiations with preconditions with Iran," Mottaki was quoted as saying by Iranian media.
"But we do not accept any preconditions for talks," he said in comments to an Iranian satellite television station, reported on the state television Web site and by Iranian news agencies.
He was referring to a U.S. intelligence estimate published this month which said Iran had ended its nuclear weapons program in 2003, leading to calls by some Iran experts for Washington to drop its precondition that Tehran give up uranium enrichment before broader talks could begin.
At a news conference on Dec 21. in Washington, however, Rice dismissed such suggestions, saying the new intelligence estimate reinforced the need for sustained pressure on Iran.
Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil exporter, is embroiled in a dispute with Western powers who fear its nuclear program could be used to build an atomic bomb. Tehran says it is aimed at generating electricity.
Easing a diplomatic freeze that lasted almost three decades, Iranian and U.S. officials have held three rounds of talks in Baghdad this year, but those discussions have been limited to ways to quell the violence in Iraq.
The U.N. Security Council is discussing a possible third round of sanctions against Iran over its refusal to suspend its sensitive atomic work.
Mottaki's remarks came as Kazem Jalali, a spokesman for parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, gave details of a planned international tender for atomic plants a week after Russia said it had begun fuel deliveries to the Islamic state's first such facility.
Jalali said each power plant would have a capacity of 1,000 megawatts of electricity, the Iran News daily reported on Monday, without giving further details.
Russia said on December 17 it had delivered the first shipment of nuclear fuel to the Bushehr power plant in southern Iran, a step Moscow and Washington said should convince Tehran to shut down its own disputed uranium enrichment activities.
Iran, however, said it would not halt its efforts to enrich uranium, a process to make fuel for power plants that can also provide material for atomic weapons, if refined much further.
Iranian officials say domestically-produced fuel is needed for other power plants it wants to build as part of a planned network with a capacity for 20,000 MW by 2020.
Jalali, whose comments were initially carried by the official IRNA news agency on Sunday, suggested the tenders were in line with these plans. "The contract for building 19 power plants ... will in the near future be put on an international tender," IRNA quoted him as saying.
(Reporting by Zahra Hosseinian; Editing by Charles Dick)