(photo credit: AP)
Iran on Sunday welcomed a call by US President George W. Bush for talks between Washington and Teheran but said it would not give up its disputed nuclear program as a condition for sitting down with the United States.
Iran's comments come less than a week after Bush told a group of businessmen and women in Pennsylvania that he would negotiate with Iran if it suspended its nuclear program - something Iran has repeatedly refused to do. Bush also made similar comments in an interview aired Friday on Al-Arabiya TV.
"Iran is ready for talks in a just, unconditional manner with mutual respect," said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini.
He said Bush's remarks were not new, but they were "more clear than previous times."
But Hosseini reiterated that Iran would not suspend its nuclear activities.
"Suspension of (nuclear) enrichment is an old debate. We have many times said that new issues should be discussed in negotiations," Hosseini told reporters.
The Bush administration and others in the West have repeatedly voiced concern over Iran's uranium enrichment program, arguing it is aimed at producing nuclear weapons. Iran rejects the claims, defying UN sanctions while stressing its program is peaceful and agreeing to answer questions from the UN nuclear agency.
In a setback for the United States, Iran won a reprieve from new UN sanctions over its nuclear program late last month. The Bush administration and its European allies ceded to Russian and Chinese demands in the UN Security Council to give Teheran until November to address questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, about its nuclear program.
During his trip last month to New York, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcomed the possibility of talks between Iran and the US, but he told world leaders at the UN General Assembly that his country would defy attempts to impose new sanctions by "arrogant powers" seeking to curb its nuclear program, accusing them of lying and imposing illegal penalties on his country.
Tensions are also high between Iran and the US over Washington's allegations that Teheran is supplying Shiite militias in Iraq with deadly weapons that kill US troops - a claim Teheran denies.
Iran and the US cut off diplomatic relations after Iranian militant students seized the US Embassy in 1979 and took 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The two countries have held talks in recent months in Baghdad, but they have limited the talks to Iraq's security.