Saturday, May 13, 2006

Iran Leader Decries Coerced Nuclear Talks

Zakki Hakim, The Washington Post:
Iran's president, emboldened by the support of Muslim nations, said Saturday he was willing to hold talks over his country's disputed nuclear program but not with countries that hold "bombs over our head." READ MORE

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke after talks with heads of state from Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Turkey and Malaysia, and government ministers from Egypt and Bangladesh.

Delegates of the Developing Eight, or D-8, summit released a statement after the meeting saying they support the development of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes as Iran claims it is doing. The declaration gave Ahmadinejad a much-needed boost as Tehran faces international pressure to stop uranium enrichment.

The hard-line leader thanked his counterparts "for committing themselves to defend the peaceful use and the development of nuclear energy," and assured them that he was willing to hold talks on his nuclear ambitions, but not with "countries that hang planes with bombs over our heads."

"If they want to threaten the use of force we will not go into dialogue with them," he said _ a reference to possible U.S. military strikes over concerns that Tehran wants to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran claims its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed at generating electricity, but the United States and its allies accuse Tehran of seeking to develop atomic weapons.

Those fears were heightened Friday when diplomats said U.N. inspectors have found traces of highly enriched uranium on equipment from an Iranian research center linked to the military.

The diplomats, who demanded anonymity in exchange for divulging the confidential information, cautioned that confirmation still had to come through other laboratory tests.

Ahmadinejad's comments came amid European moves to help Iran develop a civilian nuclear power program if the Islamic republic agrees to international controls to ensure it will not build an atomic arsenal.

European Union foreign ministers are expected Monday to restate the bloc's "preparedness to support Iran's development of a safe, sustainable and proliferation-proof civilian nuclear program, if international concerns were fully addressed," according to a document posted Friday on the EU's Web site.

The Europeans are seeking to build on a package of economic and political incentives offered to Iran in August last year in return for a permanent end to uranium enrichment activities.

Iran rejected that deal, but EU governments have continued to offer sweeteners to persuade Tehran to bring its nuclear program into line, as well as pushing at the United Nations for measures that could lead to sanctions if Iran refuses.

Washington had been pressing for U.N. Security Council action against Tehran but recently agreed to put such efforts on hold and give new European-led attempts to find a negotiated solution a chance in the face of fierce Russian and Chinese opposition to a strong signal from the council.

Moscow and Beijing have balked at efforts to put a Security Council resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter. Such a move would declare Iran a threat to international peace and security and set the stage for further measures if Tehran refuses to suspend uranium enrichment. Those measures could range from breaking diplomatic relations to economic sanctions and military action.