Ahmadinejad Natanz 248.88.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Iran is open to talks offered by the US and other countries over its nuclear program, if the negotiations are based on "respect" for its rights, according to the country's president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Speaking at a ceremony to inaugurate a new facility producing uranium fuel for a planned heavy-water nuclear reactor in Isfahan on Thursday, Ahmadinejad said that past negotiations had fallen apart because of the West's demands that it rein in its nuclear program.
However, he said "the Iranian nation has always been for talks," but that negotiations must "be based on justice and respecting rights."
Ahmadinejad announced the plant's opening during a ceremony. The plant will produce pellets of uranium oxide to fuel the heavy-water research reactor, which is scheduled to be completed in 2009 or 2010.
Iran denies any intention to build a nuclear weapon. The US and its allies have expressed concerns Iran could reprocess spent fuel from the heavy-water reactor into plutonium for building a warhead.
The process is distinct from uranium enrichment, which produces fuel for a light-water reactor. Highly enriched uranium can be used to build a warhead as well. Iran's enrichment program presents more immediate concerns to the West than the hard-water reactor, because it is far more advanced.
The announcement came a day after the United States announced it would participate directly in group talks with Iran over its nuclear program, another significant shift from former US president George W. Bush's policy toward a nation he labeled part of an axis of evil. Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia announced Wednesday they were inviting Iran to a new session of negotiations aimed at breaking a deadlock in the talks.
Iran has not yet replied to the invitation.
The Islamic republic has been building the 40-megawatt hard-water reactor in the central town of Arak for the past four years. Hard-water reactors do not need enriched uranium for fuel, and can instead use more easily produced uranium oxide ore, fashioned into pellets.
Following the US decision to be a full participant in talks with Iranian officials held by senior diplomats from the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany, a senior adviser to Ahmadinejad said Thursday that the Islamic republic would decide on a response to the overture after evaluating the details.
"We will review it and then decide about it," Ali Akbar Javanfekr told Reuters.
China urged the Islamic republic to pursue negotiations.
"We are glad to see an improvement in relations between the United States and Iran," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a press conference in Beijing on Thursday. "We encourage Iran and other parties to have active contacts to seek an all-round, appropriate and long-term solution to the Iran nuclear issue."
The State Department had said that the United States would be at the table "from now on" when senior P5+1 meet with Iranian officials to discuss the country's nuclear program.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States would now be a "full participant" rather than an observer in the talks, which include it and the other four permanent members of the UN Security Council - Britain, China, France and Russia - along with Germany.
"We believe that pursuing very careful engagement on a range of issues that affect our interests and the interests of the world with Iran makes sense," Clinton said. "There is nothing more important than trying to convince Iran to cease its efforts to obtain a nuclear weapon."
State Department spokesman Robert Wood said the decision was conveyed to representatives of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia by the third-ranking US diplomat William Burns at a Wednesday meeting in London. That group, known as the "P5+1," announced earlier that it would invite Iran to attend a new session aimed at breaking a deadlock in the talks.
"The US remains committed to the P5+1 process; what is different is that the US will join P5+1 discussions with Iran from now on," Wood said, adding that Washington was hopeful Iran would attend.
"If Iran accepts, we hope this will be the occasion to seriously engage Iran on how to break the logjam of recent years and work in a cooperative manner to resolve the outstanding international concerns about its nuclear program," he said. "Any breakthrough will be the result of the collective efforts of all the parties, including Iran."
Wood said the administration wants a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue and believes that requires "a willingness to engage directly with each other on the basis of mutual respect and mutual interests."
"We hope that the government of Iran chooses to reciprocate," he added.
The invitation is to be sent to the Iranians by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana. In a statement the group said it welcomed the "new direction" of US policy toward Iran. No time frame was given for a date of the meeting.