Iran rules out talks on nuclear programme


Iran has proposed a global system to eliminate nuclear weapons, as well as cooperation on Afghanistan and fighting terrorism, but will not discuss halting its uranium enrichment program, an Iranian official was quoted as saying today.

"Iran not only does not want to make nuclear weapons, but is actually intensely against nuclear weapons," Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi, who ran president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election campaign and has held key positions at Iran's foreign and interior ministries, told the Washington Post.

He said that countries like Iran that have signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty were entitled to enrich uranium - technology that can produce fuel for bombs or power plants.

"It is very obvious that legal and lawful activities are the right of every nation," Mr Samareh Hashemi said.

He said "Iran is trying to establish a new regime to prevent nuclear weapons worldwide," adding that the threat from atomic weapons came from states that had them, not the Islamic Republic.

Earlier today, Tehran's envoy to the UN nuclear watchdog agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh was quoted as saying Iran would not negotiate with major powers about its disputed nuclear programme.

Iran's Arabic-language satellite television, al Alam, quoted Mr Soltanieh as saying Tehran had prepared the proposed "package" to try to end differences over its nuclear programme, while also appearing to rule out any negotiations on the issue.

"Tehran is prepared to have fair and substantive talks about various problems, including the guarantee of access by all countries to nuclear energy and preventing the proliferation of nuclear arms," Mr Soltanieh said.

"But these talks do not include Tehran's nuclear programme and legal activities in this connection," he said.

He made similar comments last week, before the proposals were submitted to the powers involved in diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear work - the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today said Iran's proposals to world powers could be a basis for negotiations and ruled out imposing oil sanctions over its nuclear programme.

Mr Lavrov's assessment was swiftly contradicted in Washington where a US official said Iran's offer was 'not really responsive'. The United States, Britain, France and Germany favour tougher action than Russia and China to force Iran to stop enriching uranium.

"Based on a brief review of the Iranian papers my impression is there is something there to use," Lavrov told academics and reporters from the Valdai discussion group in Moscow.

"The most important thing is Iran is ready for a comprehensive discussion of the situation, what positive role it can play in Iraq, Afghanistan and the region," he said.

Mr Lavrov said the United Nations Security Council would not support oil sanctions against Iran, the world's fifth-largest crude oil exporter and a major importer of gasoline. Russia has a permanent seat on the council and the power of veto.

Mr Lavrov said world powers had agreed to use sanctions only as a way to get Iran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency in its monitoring of Iran's nuclear work.

"Some of the sanctions under discussion, including oil and oil products, are not a mechanism to force Iran to cooperate - they are a step to a full blown blockade and I do not think they would be supported at the UN Security Council," he said.

Iran, the world's fifth-largest crude exporter, says its nuclear programme is aimed at producing electricity and has repeatedly rejected demands to halt enrichment.

The United States voiced hope that Iran's proposals would be constructive and said it intended to study them carefully.

"There is much to be concerned about related to Iran's nuclear activities," said its envoy to the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Glyn Davies.

"But at the same time, I would stress we hope sincerely that the Iranians will see fit to engage with the (six powers) constructively and specifically on these issues," he told reporters in Vienna today.

Mr Davies said yesterday that Iran was moving closer to being able to make atomic bombs by stockpiling enriched uranium, which Tehran says it needs to fuel atomic power plants but which can also provide material for weapons.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday Iran was ready for dialogue on problems and challenges facing the world but insisted it would not back down in the nuclear issue.

US president Barack Obama has indicated Iran will face harsher international sanctions, possibly targeting its lifeblood oil sector, if it does not accept good-faith negotiations by the end of September.

In Vienna yesterday, the three European members of the group of world powers - Britain, France and Germany - prodded Iran to engage in meaningful nuclear talks "now" and warned Tehran could not endlessly evade an IAEA investigation.

The six powers originally offered Iran trade and diplomatic incentives in 2006 in exchange for a suspension of enrichment. Iran ruled out such a move as a precondition for talks.

They improved the offer last year but retained the precondition. Iran said it wanted a broader peace and security deal, dismissed by Western officials as vague and irrelevant.