Iran offers to be West's "reliable partner" in Middle East

GENEVA Tue Apr 23, 2013 1:37pm EDT

Iran's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh reacts as he attends a board of governors meeting at the UN headquarters in Vienna March 4, 2013. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer

Iran's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh reacts as he attends a board of governors meeting at the UN headquarters in Vienna March 4, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Herwig Prammer

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GENEVA (Reuters) - Iran said on Tuesday it would be a "reliable partner" in the Middle East if Western countries would take a more cooperative approach in talks on its nuclear program.

Western powers blame tension with Iran in part on its refusal to fully cooperate with United Nations calls for curbs on its nuclear activity to ensure it is for peaceful purposes only, and to open up to investigations by U.N. inspectors.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, said U.S. and European policies, including extensive sanctions on the Islamic Republic, were bound to fail.

"Western countries are advised to change gear from confrontation to cooperation, the window of opportunity to enter into negotiation for long-term strategic cooperation with Iran, the most reliable, strong and stable partner in the region, is still open," Soltanieh told a meeting in Geneva on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Soltanieh offered no specifics on how Iran could move to a cooperative dialogue with the West, which has demanded concrete Iranian action to allay international concern that it is trying to develop the means to produce nuclear weapons.

Thomas Countryman, chief U.S. delegate to the NPT talks, said on Monday that Iran's nuclear program poses the greatest threat to the credibility of the NPT, which aims to halt the spread of nuclear weapons.

Soltanieh said Iran was determined to pursue "all legal areas of nuclear technology, including fuel cycle and enrichment technology, exclusively for peaceful purposes" and this would be carried out under International Atomic Energy Agency supervision.

"Hostile policies of Western countries, including dual track, carrot and stick, sanctions-and-talks policies are doomed to failure," he said.

The IAEA said on Tuesday it will hold a meeting with Iran on May 15 aimed at enabling its inspectors to resume a stalled investigation into suspected nuclear bomb research.

Israel suggested on Monday it would be patient before taking any military action against Iran's nuclear program, saying during a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel there was still time for other options.

Israel has long hinted at possible military strikes to deny its arch-adversary any means to make a nuclear bomb, while efforts by six world powers to find a negotiated solution with Iran have proved unsuccessful so far.

NUCLEAR-FREE ZONE

Iran and its ally Syria called for a conference aimed at banning nuclear weapons in the Middle East and urged major powers to stop helping Israel to acquire nuclear technology.

The talks, which were supposed to be held last December in Helsinki after being agreed at a 2010 NPT conference, were postponed without a new date being set.

Israel is widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power but neither confirms nor denies having such weapons.

Soltanieh, in an apparent reference to Israel which has not joined the NPT regime, said: "Iran is paying a heavy price for its membership and full commitment to the NPT while others outside the treaty are exempted from any inspection and sanctions, but receiving full nuclear cooperation of western countries, specifically the U.S. and Canada."

Syria's Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui said: "The Israeli nuclear arsenals increase tension in an already explosive situation."

"We call on states, parties, especially nuclear states, to stop their support to Israel in developing its nuclear capabilities and prohibit providing it with nuclear technology. This should help pave the way for a zone free of weapons of mass destruction and nuclear weapons in the Middle East," he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jon Hemming)

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