Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Iran's Supreme Leader Sees No Benefit in U.S. Talks

The New York Times:
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday that talks with the United States would not benefit the Islamic Republic, which is embroiled in a dispute over its nuclear program with the West.

Washington has offered to join the European Union's direct talks with Iran if Tehran agrees to halt its uranium enrichment work. The demand was made in a package that has the backing of six world powers but Iran has not yet replied.

``Negotiating with America does not have any benefit for us and we do not need such negotiations,'' Khamenei was quoted as saying by state television. READ MORE

Iran denies Western claims that it aims to produce nuclear weapons, saying it is only seeking atomic power.

The U.S. offer to join talks was viewed as a major policy change in Washington, which has not had diplomatic ties with Tehran since 1980. Some analysts, particularly in the West, viewed it as a possible deal clincher.

But Iranian officials have said they remain suspicious of U.S. intentions. Analysts said Khamenei's remarks might indicate pessimism in the leadership that such talks would yield results and sent a message that Iran was not in a rush to meet.

``Iran is giving the message that Iran doesn't trust America and does not believe America has changed its position,'' said analyst Mahmoud Alinejad.

Khamenei did not rule out nuclear negotiations, although he insisted any such talks would be on Iranian terms.

``We will not negotiate with anybody on our certain right to reach and use nuclear technology. However, if they recognize this right for us, we are prepared to talk about international controls, supervision and guarantees, and the grounds for such negotiations have been prepared,'' he said.

Iranian officials have said Iran will not back down on what they say is Iran's right to produce nuclear fuel, a demand Western nations have said is unacceptable.

The United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany have offered Iran state-of-the-art civilian nuclear technology and other incentives on condition it halts enrichment. Western diplomats say this demand is not negotiable.

In March, it had looked like negotiations between Iran and the United States could go ahead to discuss issues concerning Iran's neighbor Iraq, though not the nuclear issue.

Khamenei had sanctioned such a meeting but said Washington must stop its ``bullying attitude.''

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in April such talks were not needed since a permanent Iraqi government was in place.

Direct talks between the United States and Iran are rare. Most famously, they met in secret during the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s in which Washington supplied arms to Iran in return for Tehran's help releasing U.S. hostages held in the Lebanon.

Washington broke ties with Tehran shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution when radical Iranian students held 52 Americans at the U.S. embassy hostage for 444 days.