- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Iran has told the United States and five other powers trying to persuade it to stop enriching uranium that it would not engage in “condescending” talks because Middle East developments in recent years have strengthened its position to negotiate on its own terms.

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, meanwhile, called on Tehran Tuesday to start negotiating with the West now, before the terms get tougher next year should he win the White House.

The Iranian response to a refreshed package of incentives in exchange for an enrichment suspension came in a letter addressed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other Western leaders by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, which was sent on July 4 and leaked to a French newspaper Tuesday.

“The world has changed,” Mr. Mottaki wrote in an apparent reference to the Iraq war and other regional developments that are perceived to have diminished U.S. influence. “Nobody can regard himself above the law or the sole enforcer of the law.”

In his letter, a copy of which was posted on the Web site of the weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, the foreign minister added: “The time for negotiating from the condescending position of inequality has come to an end.”

Last month’s package, which included political, security and economic incentives, came two years after Iran rejected a similar deal offered by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

Miss Rice has proposed to break with three decades of U.S. policy and meet with Mr. Mottaki, but only if enrichment is suspended. Tehran, however, insists that it has a right to continue pursuing a nuclear fuel cycle.

“We have no intention of changing this path,” Mr. Mottaki wrote in his letter. “The people of Iran have worked out plans for the advancement of their country, without asking for help from others.”

He expressed willingness to engage in a broad security dialogue with the West, and European diplomats have explored the idea of “pre-negotiations” before an enrichment suspension. But Washington is not interested in such talks.

Still, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana is scheduled to meet Saturday in Geneva with the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili.

“The response of the Iranians now is one that says yes to dialogue but doesn’t address the essential issues,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters in Brussels on Tuesday. Negotiations “haven’t yielded very much, let’s be realistic.”

Mr. Obama, who has been criticized for planning to hold direct talks with Iranian officials without preconditions, sought Tuesday to appear tough on the Islamic Republic in what was touted as a major foreign policy speech.

“The Iranians should negotiate now. By waiting, they will only face mounting pressure,” he said. “Preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons is a vital national security interest of the United States. No tool of statecraft should be taken off the table.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that the next U.S. administration “has no other option” but to begin talks with Tehran.

“Tehran welcomes negotiations but will not accept the precondition set by the West - the suspension of uranium enrichment,” he was quoted as saying in a television interview.

The U.N. Security Council has adopted three rounds of economic sanctions against Iran because of its refusal to suspend enrichment, which it insists is for peaceful purposes. But the West says the enrichment is meant to be used for a nuclear weapon.

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee will consider legislation this week that would expand U.S. sanctions against Iran, the panel’s top members said Tuesday. It comes just days after Tehran test-fired missiles it said could reach U.S. assets in the region.

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