- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 6, 2010

TEHRAN | Iran said Tuesday it welcomes Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s comments that there is no hard-and-fast deadline for starting nuclear dialogue.

On Monday, Mrs. Clinton said the Obama administration remained open to negotiating with Iran about its nuclear program, though it will move toward tougher sanctions if Iran does not respond positively. She stressed there is no hard-and-fast deadline for Iran.

Responding Tuesday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the comments.

“We share the same idea with her. Deadlines are meaningless. We hope other countries return to their natural path, too,” said Ramin Mehmanparast, a Foreign Ministry spokesman.

The remarks were a rare positive response by the Iranians to U.S. comments on its nuclear program.

The U.S. and other Western allies accuse Iran of working to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge and says its program is for peaceful purposes.

The West is primarily concerned about high levels of uranium enrichment, which can be used to make an atomic bomb. At lower levels, enriched uranium is used in the production of fuel for nuclear power plants.

Iran dismissed an end-of-2009 deadline imposed by the Obama administration and its international partners to accept a U.N.-drafted deal to swap most of its enriched uranium for nuclear fuel. The deal would reduce Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium, limiting, at least temporarily, its capability to make nuclear weapons.

In New York, China’s ambassador to the United Nations said that despite U.S. demands for tougher sanctions, Beijing does not plan to hold debates on more sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program during its Security Council presidency this month.

Ambassador Zhang Yesui told reporters Tuesday “this is not the right time or moment for sanctions” and that diplomats need “more time and patience” to try to bridge differences.

In her comments Monday, Mrs. Clinton also said the administration was appalled by the Iranian government’s crackdowns on street protests — which she described as “mounting signs of ruthless repression.”

At least eight people died in clashes between security forces and opposition supporters across Iran late last month, including a nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. It was the worst bloodshed since the height of the unrest immediately after the contested June re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Mehmanparast rejected these Clinton remarks.

“Westerners are following those who do not represent the Iranian people,” he said. “A mistake that some Western countries commit is that they, with political intentions, are after those who support chaos and outrages.”

Iran regularly accuses Western countries — mostly the United States and Britain — of supporting unrest in Tehran.

On Sunday the country’s intelligence minister said several foreign nationals were among those detained during last month’s clashes.

Iran also released a list of 62 international organizations it said were planning a “soft revolution” by supporting the opposition in Iran.

The Intelligence Ministry list includes George Soros’ Open Society Institute, the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute, the Brookings Institution and U.S. National Defense University.

The list includes TV networks like British Broadcasting Corp.’s Persian service and Voice of America in Farsi.

Also Tuesday, Iran’s state radio said the country’s parliament rejected a request by Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry to visit Iran.

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