January 28, 2009 / 4:28 PM / 10 years ago

Official: Iran rejects U.S. demand to halt atom work

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran will not halt sensitive nuclear work as demanded by President Barack Obama’s administration, a close aide to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday.

The new administration has said Obama would break from his predecessor by pursuing direct talks with Tehran but has also warned Iran to expect more pressure if it did not meet the U.N. Security Council demand to halt uranium enrichment.

Adviser to the president Aliakbar Javanfekr told Reuters Iran had no intention of stopping its nuclear activities, which the United States and other Western powers suspect are a front to build nuclear arms.

“We have no non-peaceful activities to suspend. All our activities are peaceful and under the supervision of the IAEA,” he said in an interview in government offices in Tehran,.

Asked about U.N. resolutions demanding Iran suspend uranium enrichment, he said: “We have passed that stage. We have rejected resolutions. Those resolutions were issued under U.S. pressure. We work in the framework of international laws.”

“Obama should act realistically to avoid repeating (George W.) Bush’s mistakes,” he added.

Three rounds of U.N. sanctions have been imposed on Iran for not stopping and the Bush administration had sought a fourth.

Iran has repeatedly dismissed the impact of sanctions, and Javanfekr echoed this by saying sanctions were “ineffective.”

Analysts say the measures are making it more costly for Iranian firms to do business and deterring foreign investors.

Obama’s administration has said it would use “all elements of our national power” to address concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and has not ruled out military action if needed.

Iran says it is prepared to defend the country if attacked.

Neither Obama nor his top aides have said exactly how they may approach Iran. Obama said in his first formal television interview that Washington was prepared to extend a hand of peace if Iran “unclenched its fist.”

Javanfekr responded saying: “This is illogical to talk about unclenching fists when Iran is surrounded by American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Ahmadinejad said Wednesday Iran would welcome Obama’s offer of a change in U.S. policy but said it must involve withdrawing U.S. troops stationed abroad and an apology for past “crimes” against Iran.

“America has always extended a clenched fist toward Iran ... If America unclenches its fist Iran will extend a hand of cooperation toward America,” he added.

PRGAMATIC VOICES

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said Tehran had a “clear opportunity” to show the world it is willing to engage. The White House website also said Obama “supports tough and direct diplomacy with Iran without preconditions.”

When Iran was offered talks with the United States and world powers over its nuclear plans on condition it halted its atomic work, Iran said it did not accept preconditions.

But in response to the administration’s suggestion of direct talks, Javanfekr said Iran had its own conditions.

“We are ready for talks with some preconditions ... including ending America’s military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said and repeated the demand for an apology.

Political analysts say while pragmatic voices in Iran want better ties with the West, more hardline voices who control key levers of power could block an opening amid fears that Washington still wants to undermine the ruling system.

Any decision on talks will require the approval of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s highest authority. He said in October hatred of America ran deep in Iran and warned Iraqi leaders in January that U.S. governments could not be trusted.

Writing by Parisa Hafezi

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