TEHRAN (Reuters) - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday that Iran’s right to nuclear capabilities was non-negotiable, ahead of proposed talks with major world powers on its controversial atomic program.
Western diplomats have made clear they want Iran to address their concerns about Tehran’s nuclear program in talks that the United States, France, Russia, Britain, Germany and China have offered Tehran later this month.
“We have repeatedly said that our (nuclear) rights are not negotiable ... We only hold talks to resolve international problems ... to help the establishment of peace,” Ahmadinejad said in a televised speech in central town of Qazvin.
EU diplomats in Brussels said they believed Ahmadinejad was not closing the door altogether on discussion of Iran’s nuclear program but merely reiterating a longstanding position that Iran had the same rights as other countries to develop peaceful nuclear power.
In a letter dated November 9 and seen by Reuters, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, told European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton that he was ready to meet on November 23 or December 5 in Turkey, a NATO member and candidate for European Union membership.
A spokesman for Ashton said she would be discussing the letter with the six world powers, who have given her a mandate to hold talks with Jalili. Talks between Iran and the major powers failed over a year ago, leading to a tightening of international sanctions against Tehran.
David Albright, head of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, said the Iranians were reluctant to enter talks that could raise pressure on the country to restrain its nuclear activities.
“I think they (Iranian leaders) have real hesitancy about having substantive nuclear discussions. They really do resist any negotiations ... that would lead to a discussion of a suspension (of nuclear enrichment) for example,” Albright said.
Ahmadinejad said Iran had always been in favor of talks held on a rational and logical basis, but would not let anyone violate its basic rights.
“Iran welcomes any hand extended with honesty but would cut off any hand extended with deception,” he said.
Ahmadinejad had listed conditions for any nuclear talks, including that the parties state their opinion on the reputed but unacknowledged nuclear arsenal of Israel, Tehran’s arch-enemy that has refused to rule out a pre-emptive strike to stop Iran getting the bomb.
In a reminder of Washington’s disapproval of Iranian nuclear defiance and other policies it deems a threat to U.S. interests, President Barack Obama on Wednesday renewed a longstanding freeze on Iranian government assets held in the United States.
The renewal, in the form of a letter to Congress, is required annually by law to keep in place the freeze, which dates back to the Iran hostage crisis in 1979. Obama’s diplomatic outreach has failed to budge Tehran, and he has worked to tighten international sanctions over the past year.
Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna, Luke Baker in Brussels and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Cynthia Osterman
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