TEHRAN (Reuters) - A senior Iranian official denied on Tuesday he had made any statement saying Tehran was ready for talks with the West on its disputed nuclear program, state television reported.
The same television network earlier said the official — Iran’s envoy to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Ali Asghar Soltanieh — “announced Iran’s readiness to take part in any negotiations with the West based on mutual respect.”
But it later quoted Soltanieh, Iran’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) representative, as saying he had not given any interviews or made any comments on the issue, without elaborating where the initial report came from.
“Iran’s main policies are not changed and that is to pursue its peaceful nuclear activities within the framework of the IAEA,” Soltanieh said.
U.S. President Barack Obama has given Iran until September to take up a six-power offer of talks on trade benefits if it shelves sensitive nuclear enrichment, or face harsher sanctions.
Iranian officials have made statements in the past about possible discussions on Tehran’s nuclear activities based on mutual respect and without preconditions, while vowing not to back down in the row with the West.
But political turmoil in the Islamic state following its June election clouded prospects for dialogue.
The West suspects Iran of seeking to build nuclear weapons. Iran, the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter, says its program is aimed at peaceful power generation and has ruled out suspending or freezing its activities.
The poll and its turbulent aftermath have plunged Iran into its biggest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution, exposing deepening divisions within its ruling elite and also further straining relations with the West.
Obama’s offer of engagement with Iran if it “unclenched its fist” ran into trouble after Iran accused the United States and other Western nations of inciting protests after the election, and Washington strongly condemned the government’s crackdown.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has signaled a tougher approach toward the West, declaring last month that his next government “would bring down the global arrogance,” a term used to refer to the United States and its allies.
Ahmadinejad’s reformist opponents say the June vote was rigged to secure his re-election. He denies it.
The last time Iran held talks with major powers on its nuclear program was in July 2008 in Geneva. The six powers involved in the issue are: the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain.
Additional reporting by Reza Derakhshi; Writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Sophie Hares