- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

NEW YORK — Iran’s president said yesterday that his country is ready to share its nuclear know-how with other Islamic countries, the latest setback to a U.N.-backed effort to halt Tehran’s nuclear programs.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in his first foreign trip since his election in June, again denied Bush administration charges that Iran is secretly seeking nuclear weapons.

But after a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the U.N. summit here, Mr. Ahmadinejad, for the first time, offered to share the fruits of Iran’s nuclear programs with other Muslim countries.

“The Islamic Republic never seeks such weapons of mass destruction, and with respect to the needs of Islamic countries, we are ready to transfer nuclear know-how to these countries,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said, according to Iranian press accounts.

He repeated his denials of Iran’s intent to make atomic bombs in a get-acquainted meeting with U.S. reporters and editors yesterday morning, saying such suspicions put a heavy burden on his country.

“How do you prove you are not a bad person?” he asked.

The offer to share nuclear technology prompted a worried U.S. reaction. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli told a briefing, “Iran, as its record demonstrates, has a long history of trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, supporting terror.

“We view with concern any suggestion that Iran would seek to contribute to very destabilizing and unhelpful international behavior.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had been trying to rally support for a vote next week by the United Nations’ Vienna, Austria-based nuclear watchdog to refer Iran’s nuclear programs to the Security Council — a first step toward possible sanctions.

The tougher line had been backed earlier by European Union powers Britain, France and Germany, which have taken the diplomatic lead in an unsuccessful effort to resolve the standoff.

But Miss Rice conceded that the United States might not have the votes at what was supposed to be a climactic vote by the board of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Monday.

“If we get a referral that will be good, but I think the issue of a referral is something we’ll be working on for a while,” Miss Rice said in an interview with the Fox News editorial board conducted Wednesday evening and released in full yesterday.

“I’m not so concerned about exactly when it happens, because I don’t think this matter is so urgent that it has to be [held] on September 19,” she added.

Top French, German and English officials met with the Iranian president late yesterday after talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and also signaled that any tough action against Iran would probably be delayed.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw declined to comment on the substance of a meeting between the three major European powers — Britain, France and Germany — and the recently elected Iranian leader.

“Our aim all the way through in this when we started these negotiations was to keep the matter out of the Security Council,” Mr. Straw told reporters. “What we’re going to do is to listen carefully to what the president is going to say on Saturday afternoon and we’ll take it from there.”

“We want to pursue the dialogue. … We think there is still room for negotiations,” said French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin before the meeting with Mr. Ahmadinejad.

U.S. and European officials had previously expressed hope that they could win at least a strong majority of the 35-nation IAEA board to refer Iran to the Security Council in Monday’s vote. But China and Russia, who have Security Council vetoes, oppose the referral, and India has been cool to the idea as well.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei also favors delaying a vote, saying Iran should be given a deadline to reverse its decision to resume steps toward enriching uranium.

Enriched uranium can be used to fuel nuclear reactors or to make atomic bombs.

The Iranian leader’s offer to share nuclear technology tracked past Iranian efforts to expand the IAEA negotiations to include other Islamic and regional countries.

The IAEA has rejected that suggestion, insisting that it is Iran’s record and programs that are at issue.

Diplomats in Vienna have speculated that Iran benefits from any delay in the vote, as a new group of mostly nonaligned countries will be joining the U.N. agency board soon.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is expected to discuss the Iranian standoff in his White House visit with President Bush today, met Mr. Ahmadinejad yesterday and praised Russia’s “long-standing and very close relationship” with Iran.

With the Russian president at his side, Mr. Ahmadinejad replied, “A powerful Russia is Iran’s best friend, and a powerful Iran is Russia’s best friend.”

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