- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 8, 2006

TEHRAN — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said yesterday that his regime is ready for talks over its nuclear capabilities, but sent mixed signals on how much is open for negotiation. He also refused to first suspend uranium enrichment as demanded by the West.

On Wednesday, world powers backed off a demand that Iran commit to a prolonged moratorium on uranium enrichment, and asked only for a suspension during talks on its nuclear program. Mr. Ahmadinejad did not say whether he accepted the proposed talks, part of a package of incentives in exchange for Iran’s suspension of enrichment.

In a speech at an industrial city, he said Iran would hold dialogue on “mutual concerns” with foreign powers — including the United States — if the talks are “free from threats.”

A report to the U.N. nuclear agency’s board, meanwhile, said Iran slowed enrichment over the past month but picked up the pace Tuesday, the day the proposal for talks was delivered. The report, sent to member nations, gave no indication that the two events were linked.

Although the slowdown in enrichment could reflect a decision by Iran to send a positive signal before talks, a senior U.N. official said it also could be the result of technical difficulties.

Mr. Ahmadinejad portrayed Iran as having forced Washington and its allies to accept the Islamic regime’s “greatness and dignity” and increasingly bend to its will.

The shifting messages are seen as part of Iranian posturing before proposed talks, which could include the United States after a nearly 27-year diplomatic freeze. Western nations, led by the United States, worry that Iran’s uranium-enrichment technology could become the backbone for a nuclear-arms program. Iran insists it seeks only electricity-producing reactors.

“The nation will never hold negotiations about its definite rights with anybody, but we are for talks about mutual concerns to resolve misunderstandings in the international arena,” Mr. Ahmadinejad told thousands of people in Qazvin, about 60 miles northwest of Tehran.

In a major policy shift, the United States agreed last week to join France, Britain and Germany in talks with Iran, provided Tehran suspends all suspect nuclear activities. Tehran has welcomed direct talks with Washington but rejected any preconditions.

Mr. Ahmadinejad did not say whether Iran would accept the Western package of incentives, which were presented Tuesday by the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.

Its contents have not been made public, but diplomats have said the package includes economic rewards and a provision for some U.S. nuclear technology if Iran halts uranium enrichment — a major concession by Washington. World powers also have suggested the length of the proposed enrichment suspension could be subject to negotiation, diplomats said.

Iran’s initial reaction to the package was upbeat, but Tehran has said it will announce its position only after studying the package carefully. Mr. Solana said he expects a reply within “weeks.”


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