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(photo credit: AP)
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Thursday welcomed direct talks with Washington but rebuffed a US proposal that Tehran must suspend its nuclear enrichment activity as a condition of such talks.
"Iran welcomes dialogue under just conditions but (we) won't give up our (nuclear) rights," said Mottaki.
Mottaki's words were the country's first direct reaction to a proposal by the United States on Wednesday that it was willing to talk with Iran in an international forum, as long as Iran quits enriching uranium.
"We won't negotiate about the Iranian nation's natural nuclear rights but we are prepared, within a defined, just framework and without any discrimination, hold dialogue about (our) common concerns."
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Mottaki said Iran had no intention to halt its uranium enrichment program.
"There is no evidence proving Iran's diversion (toward nuclear weapons). Therefore, Iran is interested in continuing this path."
In Teheran, the official Iranian news agency criticized the US offer as "a propaganda move."
"It's evident that the Islamic Republic of Iran only accepts proposals and conditions that meet the interests of the nation and the country. Halting enrichment definitely doesn't meet such interests," IRNA said.
The American move was seen as a final chance for negotiating with Iran on its nuclear program.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the new initiative at a State Department press conference, after US diplomats informed Iran on the suggestion both through the Swiss diplomatic mission in Teheran and by the UN representatives.
"The United States is willing to exert strong leadership to give diplomacy its very best chance to succeed," Rice said in her statement, "Thus, to underscore our commitment to a diplomatic solution and to enhance the prospects for success, as soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table with our EU-3 colleagues and meet with Iran's representatives."
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni expressed Israel's support for the US proposal Wednesday evening, saying that the US and Israeli governments were in agreement and "shared a broad mutual understanding" regarding the Iranian nuclear issue.
Livni stated that all agreements between Israel and the US regarding Iran were discussed during Prime Minister's Ehud Olmert's visit to Washington last week.
The American proposal, according to Rice, was two pronged. On the one side, it offered Iran a channel for negotiations that could lead to an end to the diplomatic stand off and would ensure the US's support of Iran's civilian nuclear energy plant, and on the other hand it threatened Iran with sanctions and punishments if it did not choose the path of negotiation.
"Today, the Iranian regime can decide on one of two paths," Rice said at the press conference, "Given the benefits of this positive path for the Iranian people, regional security, and the nuclear nonproliferation regime, we urge Iran to make this choice for peace - to abandon its ambition for nuclear weapons".
Under the joint offer the US was preparing with the EU-3 countries (Britain, France and Germany), Iran will be offered assistance in building a light water nuclear reactor for civilian use and possible future trade benefits. Yet the offer stressed the need for Iran to first stop all enrichment and reprocessing activity in a way that could be verified by international monitors.
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