Conditions still apply for nuclear talks: Ahmadinejad

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran will resume nuclear negotiations only on certain conditions, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a TV interview aired on Tuesday after the European Union imposed tough new sanctions.

Ahmadinejad reiterated conditions he first set out in June for returning to talks with major powers about the future of Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran says is purely peaceful but which the West fears is aimed at developing atom bombs.

Talks could only resume if further countries are involved, if the parties say whether they seek friendship or hostility with Iran and if they express their view on Israel’s alleged nuclear arsenal, Ahmadinejad said, according to a voiceover on the state-run, English-language Press TV channel.

Talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- as well as Germany (P5+1), meant to address concerns about Tehran’s uranium enrichment, stalled last October, leading to a toughening of international sanctions.

Iran said in a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency director on Monday that Tehran was ready to resume talks “without any conditions” on a nuclear fuel swap agreed tentatively with three of the big powers in October.

A diplomat in Vienna, where the IAEA is based, said the statements by Ahmadinejad and Soltanieh were not contradictory.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a ceremony to mark National Industry and Mine Day in Tehran July 3, 2010. REUTERS/IIPA/Sajjad Safari


Ahmadinejad’s conditions appeared to apply to any resumption of wider-scale talks with the P5+1 on Iran’s nuclear program.

The narrower fuel swap talks -- held with the “Vienna Group” of Russia, France, the United States and the IAEA -- would be unlikely to restart until September, diplomats said. Iran backed out of the October deal after calling for major amendments.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, who has corresponded with Iran on behalf of the six world powers, has welcomed Iran’s offer to return to negotiations, but has not publicly addressed the conditions set out by Ahmadinejad.

Western diplomats have said his attempt to link talks about Iran’s nuclear program to statements about Israel, Tehran’s arch-enemy, would be particularly problematic.

Ahmadinejad repeated his conditions after the European Union agreed a new round of sanctions, including a block on oil and gas investment [ID:nLDE66P10R] in Iran, following a similar move by Washington and a fourth round of milder U.N. sanctions.

“The logic that they can persuade us to negotiate through sanctions is just a failure,” Ahmadinejad said in the interview.

Russia, which backed the new U.N. sanctions, criticized the additional U.S. and EU measures, saying they undermined efforts to seek a negotiated way out of the nuclear impasse.

Iran, the world’s fifth-largest oil producer, says its nuclear program is wholly peaceful but that has not assuaged fears in many countries that, given Iran’s restrictions on IAEA inspections, its uranium enrichment activity is ultimately intended to yield nuclear weapons.

A diplomat with knowledge of the fuel swap initiative said Iran’s letter to the IAEA ignored issues the three powers -- the United States, Russia and France have raised since October, but discussions would continue concerning possible next steps.

Western diplomats say the swap proposal, under which Iran would send some of its low-enriched uranium -- potential nuclear bomb material -- abroad in exchange for higher enriched fuel for a Tehran medical reactor, is no longer sufficient since Iran’s refined uranium stockpile had doubled in size since October.

The issues raised by Washington, Moscow and Paris include Iran’s decision in February to escalate enrichment to a higher level of purity than that required for civilian energy.

Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall in Vienna; Editing by Mark Heinrich