By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, June 4, 2006
TEHRAN, June 3 -- President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Saturday that Iran would publish details of the package of incentives and possible penalties prepared by the United States and five other major powers aimed at halting Iran's nuclear program.
In a speech in which he warned Iran's critics against "threats and intimidation," Ahmadinejad seemed to sweep aside a request by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to keep the process confidential. Western diplomats had said they were trying to avoid the appearance of threatening Iran by keeping the terms of the package as private as possible, especially the specific penalties Iran might face if it continues to enrich uranium.
"We will record the talks and we will publish them at the appropriate time, so our people will be informed about the details," Ahmadinejad said in his first speech since the package was agreed upon by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany.
Addressing a crowd of government loyalists at the tomb of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran's theocratic state, Ahmadinejad said Iran would not prejudge the offer from the United States and the other countries. But he reiterated Iran's refusal to cease enriching uranium as a condition for formal negotiations, saying, "The Iranian nation's right to nuclear technology and power is legal and definite, and we will not talk about these issues."
However, Ahmadinejad also said Iran was willing to discuss "the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and how to stop it," as well as peace and other "common concerns." The language underscored Iran's contention that its nuclear program is aimed purely at producing electrical power. The United States and the Europeans have long suspected Iran of having a clandestine military nuclear program.
The latest effort was agreed upon by the six major powers in Vienna on Thursday. It includes an extraordinary offer by the Bush administration to bring senior U.S. diplomats into direct talks with Iran, breaking a taboo of 27 years. Iran had solicited the American overture, but today Ahmadinejad seized on the tough language used by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice while announcing the historic offer last week. "You have been talking about 'musts' and 'mustn'ts' in your offer. This is not something we accept," Ahmadinejad said. "You have to change your language. You have got to recognize our rights and talk to us based on mutual respect."
The combative tone of Ahmadinejad's evening speech followed a day of relatively optimistic, if somewhat veiled, statements. Both Ahmadinejad and his foreign secretary spoke of a possible "breakthrough" if negotiations were revived.
"I think it's pretty significant, especially if Ahmadinejad used the same word," said Mark Fitzpatrick, a nonproliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a research institute based in London. Speaking before the president's speech, Fitzpatrick said the relatively conciliatory language out of Iran carried additional weight in the absence of prominent public statements from more moderate figures in Iran's government, and that U.S. officials have ratcheted down their own rhetoric.
"You need serious responses on both sides," he said. "It looks like we might be having that."
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, speaking about Washington and Europe, told a news conference that "we think that if there is goodwill, a breakthrough to get out of a situation they have created for themselves" is possible.
Also, state-run news agencies reported Ahmadinejad as saying, in conversation with Annan, that "a breakthrough to overcome world problems, including Iran's nuclear case, would be the equal implementation of the law for all."
Analysts measured the rhetoric by the standard of Iran's tough-talking politics. Ahmadinejad and Mottaki are two of the sterner figures in Iran's theocratic government and are known more for articulating proud defiance than nudging diplomatic initiatives forward. Mottaki's relatively hopeful statement marked a softening from his initial response to Rice, the more biting parts of which appeared to mimic the Bush administration's dismissal of Ahmadinejad's May 8 letter to President Bush.
"We are moving away from a confrontation between these two countries," said Saeed Laylaz, a prominent political analyst in Tehran.