President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said yesterday Iran was ready to negotiate to end the standoff over its nuclear programme but insisted Tehran would never agree to the West’s most critical demand – a freeze in uranium enrichment.
Ahmadinejad also confounded expectations he would unveil a major development on Iran’s nuclear progress in his speech marking the 28th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, saying more news would follow by April 9.
“If you are willing to negotiate why do you insist on a suspension (of uranium enrichment)?” Ahmadinejad said, referring to the sensitive nuclear process the West wants Iran to halt as proof it is not seeking atomic weapons.
“If we suspend our activities then what are we going to talk about? Why, if your nuclear plants are working 24 hours a day, why must Iran be pressured to shut them down?”
“We are ready to negotiate but under fair and even conditions,” he told the crowd at Azadi (freedom) square in Tehran as hundreds of thousands massed around the country in support of the revolution.
Ahmadinejad’s defiance comes despite the UN Security Council’s decision to impose sanctions against Iran in December and its deadline for Iran to halt uranium enrichment by February 21 or face further action.
Chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, attending the annual security conference in Munich along with top Western officials, said that Iran wanted to achieve a “negotiated settlement of the case.”
“We don’t want to aggravate the situation in the region,” Larijani said, adding Iran was prepared to limit enrichment “to certain levels”.
He also emphasised that Iran’s civilian nuclear activity was not a danger to Israel, which Ahmadinejad has in the past said should be “wiped off the map”.
“We have no intention of aggression against any country,” Larijani said.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said any idea of holding talks while Iran carried out uranium enrichment was “totally unacceptable”.
The International Atomic Energy Agency on Friday cut almost half its aid programmes to Iran as part of the UN sanctions, a step meant to send a strong message to Tehran.
Larijani said he had sent a letter to Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the Vienna-based IAEA, offering to work out outstanding issues.
An Officials of the US-led coalition yesterday showed what they said were examples of Iranian weapons used to kill 170 of their soldiers and implicated high-level Iranian involvement in training Iraqi militants.
A senior defence official from the US-led Multinational Force in Baghdad told a briefing that 170 coalition troops had been killed by Iranian-made roadside bombs known as explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) that he said were smuggled into Iraq.