PARIS (Reuters) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday he did not expect talks next month with six world powers in Moscow on Iran’s nuclear program to yield any major breakthroughs, but hoped to improve confidence between the two sides.
The six powers - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - failed to persuade Tehran on May 23 to halt its most sensitive nuclear work, but they will meet again in Moscow on June 18-19 to try to end a stand-off that has raised fears of a new war that could threaten global oil supplies.
“We are not fools. We are not expecting miracles at the next meeting,” Ahmadinejad said in an interview with France 24 television. “There will be areas of work that will go in the right direction and we will work towards them so that we reach a constructive accord.”
He said Tehran had “good proposals” to make, but that it would only announce them when the time was right, and both sides had to work hand in hand to restore confidence.
At the heart of the impasse is Iran’s insistence on the right to enrich uranium and that economic sanctions should be lifted before it shelves activities that could lead to its achieving the capability to develop nuclear weapons.
Ahmadinejad reiterated Iran’s “legal right” to enrich uranium to 20 percent and said other countries would have to explain why Iran was not allowed to do this and what they would offer Iran in exchange if it stopped enriching uranium.
Asked if Tehran would accept an offer under which other countries would enrich its uranium if it suspended its nuclear program, Ahmadinejad said he was open to it.
“That offer has not been made, but it would ease the situation and would help build trust,” he said.
Iran’s nuclear progress is closely watched by the West and Israel as it could determine how long it could take Tehran to build atomic bombs, if it decided to do so. Iran denies any plan to do this and says its aims are entirely peaceful.
Israel this week said Tehran was still “buying time.”
Ahmadinejad said Iran was not afraid of possible Israeli “aggression”, but questioned how the international community would have reacted had Iran threatened Israel.
“The problem is the Zionist regime not Iran,” he said. “If they don’t attack us there won’t be a problem.”
While Iran has supported popular uprisings that removed longtime leaders in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, it has steadfastly supported the Syrian leadership, a rare ally in the Arab world, which is largely suspicious of Shi‘ite Iran’s ambitions for greater regional influence.
Ahmadinejad condemned the killing of 108 people, many of them children, in the Syrian town of Houla last week, saying those who had committed the crime should be punished even if the government was behind it.
“All those who carried out these murders are guilty and I hope the people responsible are punished,” he said.
Ahmadinejad said he had no idea who was responsible, but said it made no sense for a government to kill its people.
“It won’t bring any success to this government. Why would this government kill its people because this can only bring negativity to it? So we must shed light on this. I don’t exclude anybody (from committing this massacre).”
However, he said that the West and certain Arab countries were interfering in Syria and were sending weapons to help bring down the government.
“We cannot trust these people because their objective is to bring down (Syrian President Bashar al-)Assad,” he said.
Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Tim Pearce and Peter Graff