- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 3, 2006

TEHRAN — Iran offered to help support the cease-fire in Lebanon in talks yesterday with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, but showed little sign it was ready to bend to Western demands that it immediately halt its suspect nuclear programs.

Mr. Annan’s visit occurred two days after Iran defied a U.N. deadline to halt uranium enrichment, opening the door to sanctions to reinforce demands by the United States and its allies that the Islamic republic rein in its nuclear program and allay suspicions it is secretly seeking atomic weapons.

Before the Security Council discusses the issue, the European Union is taking another stab at diplomacy this week, and Mr. Annan said before arriving that he hoped sanctions could be avoided so as to keep from adding to tensions in “a region already subjected to a great stress.”

The tone from Mr. Annan’s first meetings in Tehran was positive. Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, described his talks with the U.N. chief as “constructive” and said “both sides agreed that problems should be solved through negotiations.”

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the Tehran regime supported the U.N.-mandated truce that ended the fighting in Lebanon, although he didn’t directly address the resolution’s call for halting shipments of weapons to Hezbollah, which has close ties to Iran.

In Lebanon itself, more than 250 Italian troops landed in the country’s southern region yesterday, forming the advance party of Italy’s contingent to an expanded U.N. force set up to keep the peace between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas.

The Italian marines, armed with automatic rifles and wearing blue berets, came ashore in the port of Tyre in helicopters and rubber dinghies from the aircraft carrier Garibaldi, the flagship of the Italian fleet.

Shortly before Mr. Annan arrived in Tehran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeated his insistence that the country won’t give up its nuclear program, state-run television reported. Iran says the program has only a peaceful purpose — to generate electricity for civilian uses.

“Hyperbole against Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities by Western countries, especially the U.S., will continue. … But the resistance and awareness of this nation will defuse all these plots,” Mr. Ahmadinejad told a crowd in Miandoab in northwestern Iran.

Mr. Annan was scheduled to talk with Mr. Ahmadinejad today, and European Union foreign-policy chief Javier Solana planned to meet with Mr. Larijani in the coming days.

After an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Finland, the 25-nation bloc said that there was no deadline for the talks to produce results, but warned it would not give Iran much time.

“We need some sessions — one or two, not more — to clarify some of the issues,” Mr. Solana said at a press conference.

In a reminder of Iran’s hard-line stance, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, warned that Tehran could block access by the U.N. watchdog’s inspectors if sanctions were imposed.

“Iran will revise in its cooperation with the IAEA if punitive measures by the U.N. Security Council are applied against Iran,” he said in a phone interview with state-run television.

There are doubts the Security Council would impose tough sanctions against Iran if it refused to comply. While the Bush administration supports tough sanctions, both Russia and China, which have vetoes on the council, have opposed them because of their strong trade ties with Iran.

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