Nuclear talks between top Iranian and European officials are "on track" and could pave the way for a negotiated solution to the dispute over Iran's nuclear program, Iran's foreign minister said Monday.
But Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told The Associated Press that Iran still believes there should be no conditions on the resumption of negotiations, implicitly rejecting demands that Tehran first suspend uranium enrichment.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani have held two rounds of preliminary talks to discuss Iranian questions about a package of incentives put forward by six key nations if Tehran agrees to suspend its enrichment program and return to full-scale negotiations.
Mottaki said Solana and Larijani will hold their third meeting "very soon," probably in Europe, though he did not have an exact date or location. They had been expected to meet in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly ministerial meeting that began last week, but Mottaki said it was not possible because Larijani's deputy and members of his delegation were not given US visas.
"But the last two or three days, they have been in contact and they are coordinating," the Iranian minister said in an AP interview.
The six nations - Britain, France, Germany, the United States, France and Russia - are hoping Tehran will agree quickly to suspend uranium enrichment after it missed an Aug. 31 Security Council deadline and return to negotiations, but they considering UN sanctions if it does not.
Mottaki said "there was good connection between the two sides" after Iran responded on Aug. 22 to the incentives package.
"We had good discussion with most of the parties of the package," he said, adding that Larijani and Solana both called their talks "positive, constructive and another step forward."
"We do believe that (the) case has gone once again to track - on track," Mottaki said. "All the parties should support and make a commitment to support the negotiations, and generally I believe there are possibilities to reach a comprehensive solution based on negotiations for both parties."
Oil-rich Iran says it needs uranium enrichment to produce fuel for nuclear reactors that would generate electricity and insists its program is peaceful. Enrichment can also create weapons-grade material, however, and the United States and other nations have accused Tehran of seeking to develop nuclear bombs.
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said for the first time at a press conference Thursday that Iran is prepared to negotiate the suspension of its enrichment activities "under fair and just conditions."
Asked what those conditions are, Mottaki laughed and said the president believes that "any condition, any questions, any decision should be based on justice."
How does he define justice?
"Yes, in its convenient time, we will explain. I'm sorry," the foreign minister replied.
Asked for comment on Mottaki's remarks, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said, "I'm glad to hear that they may be thinking about it. But what we need to see is an actual decision, and then have that decision implemented in a verifiable way."
Mottaki was asked about Iran's response to a possible compromise proposal from French President Jacques Chirac that would simultaneously have Iran suspend enrichment and the Security Council put off the push for sanctions at the start of negotiations.
The Iranian minister did not answer directly, but indicated he did not like the French proposal.
"All the elements for a comprehensive solution are there _ either in the (incentives) package or in the (Iranian) response," Mottaki said.
"That's why ... we support starting negotiations and let negotiators considers all the items in the agenda, all the items in the package at the same time, all the items in the response of Iran," he said.
One problem Iran had with the incentive package, he said, was that it talked about several new nuclear power plants in Iran, but he complained that Iran would "have to pay billions of dollars for those power plants."
Mottaki said he had discussed the need for negotiations with French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy.
"I told him, `Let the negotiations start and they can go to details. There's no ... barrier to raise any questions, to consider any issue. ... That's why we do believe we should not put any conditions for that," the Iranian minister said.
Mottaki stressed that there are two important elements for any solution.
"The first element is recognizing ... the right of Iran to have nuclear technology, of course for peaceful purposes," he said. "The second element is the transparent activities of Iran."
Mottaki reiterated Ahmadinejad's invitation at last year's General Assembly to foreign government-run and private companies "to participate even in the ownership of the site of nuclear activities in Iran" to demonstrate that Iran's activities are transparent.
"We do believe that the time for nuclear weapons is over and we do not need nuclear weapons," Mottaki said. "Nuclear weapons is not in the doctrine of Iran's defense policy and nuclear weapons will not help the countries for the problems which they are facing."
Nuclear weapons could not prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union and did not help "prevent 9/11, and (there are) a lot of examples you can raise. That's why Iran is sincere in its policy - not looking for the nuclear weapons," he said.