- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 13, 2006

BALI, Indonesia — Iran’s president, emboldened by the support of Muslim nations, said yesterday he was willing to hold talks over Tehran’s disputed nuclear agenda, but not with Israel or countries that hold “bombs over our head.”

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he has cooperated fully with the U.N. nuclear agency and the world has nothing to fear from his program to enrich uranium, which can be used for generating electricity or in making atomic weapons.

The hard-line leader spoke after meeting with heads of state and prime ministers from Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Turkey and Malaysia and government ministers from Egypt and Bangladesh.

Though they were on the Indonesian resort island of Bali to discuss ways to boost economic and political cooperation, alleviate poverty and restructure debt, it was impossible to ignore Iran’s intensifying nuclear stalemate with the West.

Washington and its allies fear Iran is trying to develop atomic weapons, but Mr. Ahmadinejad insists his nuclear program is only for generating electricity and accuses the West of greedily trying to monopolize nuclear technology.

He received a boost yesterday from the eight Islamic leaders, who released a statement after their summit supporting the rights of countries to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

“Our people need to do more to help one another,” Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said, adding that “proud” Islamic countries should work together to develop renewable and alternative energy sources.

Later, Indonesian Energy Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro said his country plans to build its first major nuclear-power plant by 2015 and has been offered assistance by companies from South Korea, Japan, France and an unspecified fourth country.

Much of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s work was done on the sidelines of the trade talks, meeting privately with Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar, Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Fears that Iran is trying to build nuclear warheads were aggravated Friday, when diplomats said U.N. inspectors may have found traces of highly enriched uranium on equipment from an Iranian research center linked to the military.

“I have not heard that,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said, when asked about the claims, saying the world had no reason “to become nervous. … The nuclear program of Iran is totally peaceful.”

He said his country has worked closely with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

He also said that while he was willing to talk to just about anyone about the dispute, he would not do so with “countries that hang planes with bombs over our heads” — an apparent reference to the United States.

“If they want to threaten the use of force, we will not go into dialogue with them.”

Washington has said it favors diplomacy in resolving the dispute with Iran, but has left open the possibility of military strikes against Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

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