Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ahmadinejad: Iran Willing to Discuss Nuclear Program Under Certain Conditions

The Wall Street Journal:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday that Iran is willing to discuss the suspension of nuclear enrichment under the right conditions. READ MORE

Speaking at a press conference at the United Nations, Mr. Ahmadinejad said "Iran is willing to discuss suspending nuclear enrichment under fair and just conditions."

"Our position is very clear," he said. "We work within the framework of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, and we seek to find our right within the treaty and nothing more," he said, and reiterated that Iran would use nuclear energy for strictly peaceful purposes.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said that Iran wasn't concerned about security guarantees. "We're not talking about getting security measures," he said. "We're able to protect ourselves, and the experience of our eight-year war [with Iraq] should have shown this to the world."

Meanwhile, the nations seeking to halt Iran's nuclear activities are working out a new deadline and have authorized the European Union's foreign policy chief to go anywhere at any time to meet Tehran's top nuclear negotiator.

Despite the possible new accommodations, diplomats said they are not willing to wait much longer for Iran to respond more definitively to their package of incentives to stop uranium enrichment.

Ali Larijani and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana had been expected to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly ministerial meeting this week, but British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Wednesday she understood the Iranian nuclear expert would not be coming to New York.

"What we have done last night is to authorize Javier Solana to go anywhere at any time in order to facilitate a meeting with Larijani," Ms. Beckett said. "The Iranians do seem to have some quite extraordinary logistical difficulties, so perhaps Javier can overcome them by going to wherever it is that they can make themselves available."

The Iranians had canceled every meeting with Mr. Solana at least once, she said. With world leaders gathered at the United Nations, the U.S. had hoped to move decisively this week toward political and economic sanctions against Iran after it missed an Aug. 31 U.N. Security Council deadline to halt uranium enrichment.

The oil-rich nation insists the program has the peaceful purpose of producing fuel for nuclear reactors that generate electricity. But the U.S. and other countries fear Iran's goal is to build a nuclear arsenal and transform the balance of power in the Middle East.

A dinner meeting Tuesday with Ms. Beckett, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the foreign ministers of France, Russia, China, Germany and Italy produced little consensus about the next step, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said. He said the diplomatic effort to counter Iran was in "extra innings."

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Wednesday that the nations leading efforts to halt Iran's uranium enrichment are working on a new deadline for Tehran to provide a more definitive response, despite differences over sanctions.

France also is pushing a compromise proposal that would have Iran suspend uranium enrichment at the same time as a Security Council suspension of all threats of sanctions.

Mr. Douste-Blazy suggested that the U.S. and others support the idea and said they were discussing a possible new timeline. He said he also discussed it with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and the Iranian agreed that "time is an important factor."

The French minister gave no specific date, but a senior French diplomat said the nations involved in nuclear talks with Iran are mulling an early October deadline for Iran to agree to a simultaneous suspension of uranium enrichment and talk of sanctions.

"I'm not going to talk in terms of deadlines," Ms. Rice said Wednesday, but added, "This cannot go on for very much longer." She also reiterated the U.S. position that Iran suspend enrichment before negotiations can begin.

Ms. Beckett would not discuss a possible new date, either. "What we are looking for is a clear and sustained and concrete signal that Iran wishes to negotiate," she told reporters. "Our patience, I think, is not unlimited."

"If things just drag on as they have been, then as I say, there are concerns and constraints about how long that can continue," she said.

President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac claimed they were on the same page in dealing with Iran, and insisted there were no differences. But Washington is pushing for sanctions, while Britain and others are much more reluctant and want diplomacy to run its course.

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told the General Assembly that the international community must stand up against Iran, which she claimed is pursuing weapons to destroy Israel, a reference to Tehran's disputed nuclear program.

"There is no greater challenge to our values than that posed by the leaders of Iran," Ms. Livni said. "They deny and mock the Holocaust. They speak proudly and openly of their desire to wipe Israel off the map. And now, by their actions, they pursue the weapons to achieve this objective, to imperil the region and to threaten the world."