Iran Open To a Break In Nuclear Program

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 22, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 22 -- Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday that his government is prepared to consider suspending its controversial uranium-enrichment program if Western governments meet unspecified conditions.

The Iranian leader did not spell out Tehran's demands. But his remarks indicated that he is prepared to move ahead with preliminary discussions with European powers aimed at heading off a confrontation with the West.

"Our position on suspension is very clear," he told reporters at U.N. headquarters, where he is attending the United Nations' annual meeting of world leaders. "We have said that under fair conditions and just conditions, we will negotiate about it -- under fair and just conditions, I repeat."

The statement comes two days after the United States and five other key powers authorized the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, to continue sessions with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani. The two negotiators have been seeking to set the terms of formal talks on Iran's nuclear program that would place the United States and Iran at the same negotiating table.

The Iranian leader denied U.S. claims that he is pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program, saying that Iran's spiritual leader has issued a decree prohibiting such a development. He said Iran is simply exercising its rights, under the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty, to develop nuclear power to meet the country's growing energy needs.

"The bottom line is, we do not need a bomb," he said.

The United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia have urged Iran to provide verifiable assurances that its nuclear program is peaceful. They pledged in June to offer Iran a broad range of commercial and political rewards in exchange for subjecting its nuclear program to greater international scrutiny.

The Security Council subsequently passed a resolution demanding that Iran suspend its enrichment of uranium and reprocessing of nuclear fuel by the end of August or face sanctions. Iran ignored the demand.

But U.S. efforts to impose sanctions stalled in the face of opposition from Russia, China and France. The Europeans, meanwhile, agreed to resume talks with Iran to break the impasse.

Ahmadinejad said the latest round of talks is "moving on the right track, unless . . . hopefully, others will not disrupt the work in small ways, perhaps. We think that it is a constructive path to take."

But he also accused the West of reneging on previous agreements to support Iran's efforts to develop a nuclear power program. He said Tehran is now seeking assurances that the United States and its European partners will provide enforceable guarantees that they will abide by any agreements they ultimately make in formal negotiations. "We need to know who the parties to the negotiations are, and what the prerogatives and the responsibilities of each are, and what guarantees there are on enforcement measures," Ahmadinejad said.

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