Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Iran President Wants U.S. to Change Mind

George Jahn, The Associated Press:
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami appealed Monday to the United States to drop its opposition to his country's nuclear activities — programs Washington says are directed at making weapons.

On an official visit to Austria, Khatami also expressed regret at the loss of American lives in Iraq, but suggested the violence there was unleashed by the U.S. invasion that led to Saddam Hussein's toppling nearly two years ago.

Iranian-American relations are frigid — President Bush has listed the Islamic Republic, along with North Korea and prewar Iraq, as forming an "axis of evil," and Tehran regularly accuses the Bush administration of unwarranted hostility.

Khatami's appeal for U.S. acceptance of Iran's program and his comments about the American deaths were thus in stark contrast to Iran's usual harsh anti-American rhetoric.

"We urge the Europeans as well as the Americans to support us ... in being able to cover our electricity (needs) with the atom," said Khatami, whose comments in Farsi were translated into German.

Terror and violence in Iraq is causing suffering not only to the local population but "also the young Americans ... (who) fall there and are victims," he said after meeting with Heinz Fischer, his Austrian counterpart.

The softer tone was possibly an effort to sway the European Union during talks the Europeans hope will lead to Iran committing to indefinitely suspend work on uranium enrichment.

But despite the mild language, Khatami continued to insist on Iran's right to enrichment — which can create both fuel for energy and the core of nuclear weapons — saying his country's "rights" to the technology were guaranteed by international laws.

Iran has been under intense international scrutiny since the discovery more than two years ago that it had been conducting clandestine work on nuclear enrichment for nearly two decades.

Iran has suspended enrichment and related activities while it negotiates with France, Germany and Britain — talks which the three European powers hope will lead to a permanent end to enrichment. But throughout the talks, Iran has insisted its freeze is temporary and short-term.

Confirming Iranian reports, Israeli officials in Jerusalem and diplomats based in Vienna said Monday that Iran recently offered to give EU inspectors or experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency full access to all Iranian nuclear sites if it were allowed to run approximately 3,000 centrifuges — the key enrichment equipment.

An Israeli official said Israeli Brig. Gen. Yossi Kupperwasser told a meeting of the Israeli foreign affairs and defense committee in parliament that the Iranians pledged to keep the level of enrichment at 3.5 percent — far below the 90 percent-plus needed to make nuclear weapons.

The Europeans appeared eager to consider the proposal, Kupperwasser was quoted as saying. But the diplomats in Vienna — who like the Israelis demanded anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the negotiations — said France, Germany and Britain continued to insist on full and long-term suspension. READ MORE

Khatami was scheduled to meet with French President Jacques Chirac in Paris on Tuesday on the sidelines of a meeting of the U.N. Education Scientific and Cultural Organization. Chirac and Khatami were likely to focus on the nuclear negotiations.

On Iraq, Khatami said it had become "a center for terrorist and violent activities" only following the U.S.-led invasion. He said his country supported efforts to establish a pluralistic government in the neighboring country that is "not subject to pressure from outside."