(photo credit: Associated Press)
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the world on Saturday that he was willing to hold talks about the deepening international standoff surrounding his country's nuclear program with anyone except Israel and countries who hold "bombs over our heads."
He said he has cooperated fully with the UN nuclear agency and insisted there was no reason to be nervous about his nuclear ambitions, as he won support from fellow Muslim leaders for his contested uranium enrichment program.
The leader made the comments after hobnobbing with heads of state and prime ministers from Indonesia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Turkey and Malaysia and government ministers from Egypt and Bangladesh.
Though they were on the Indonesian resort island of Bali to discuss ways to boost economic and political cooperation, alleviate poverty and restructure debt it was impossible to ignore Iran's intensifying nuclear stalemate with the West.
Ahmadinejad insisted his nuclear program was "100 percent" peaceful, but the United States and its allies accuse him of trying to develop atomic weapons.
But the Iranian president, who accused the West of greedily trying to monopolize nuclear technology, was clearly among friends on Saturday.
The eight Islamic leaders - from Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo to Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz - released a statement at the end of the day supporting the rights of nations to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
"Our people need to do more to help one another," Yudhoyono said earlier in the day, adding that "proud" Islamic countries should work together to develop renewable and alternative energy sources.
"Our potentials are enormous. Our resources are vast. Great opportunities lie await," he said.
Much of Ahmadinejad's work was done on the sidelines of the trade talks.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said after a hastily arranged bilateral meeting that he supported a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff, something everyone seemed to agree on.
"Dialogue is the best way," he told reporters. "We should not create another crisis."
Ahmadinejad also met privately with Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, though details were not available.
Fears that Iran is trying to build nuclear warheads were aggravated Friday, when diplomats said UN inspectors may have found traces of highly enriched uranium on equipment from an Iranian research center linked to the military.
The diplomats, who demanded anonymity in exchange for divulging the confidential information, initially said the density of enrichment appeared to be close to or above the level used to make nuclear warheads.
But later a well-placed diplomat accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency said it was below that, although higher than the low-enriched material used to generate power and heading toward weapons-grade level.
"I have not heard that," Ahmadinejad said when asked about the claims, saying there was no reason for the world "to become nervous about nothing. The nuclear program of Iran is totally peaceful."
He said his country has worked closely with the UN nuclear agency.
"The cameras are there, the facilities are there, closely monitoring our activities. Therefore there are no concerns."
He also said that while he was willing to talk to just about anyone about the dispute he would not do so with "countries that hang planes with bombs over our heads."
"If they want to threaten the use of force we will not go into dialogue with them."
Ahmadinejad's comments came amid European moves to help Iran develop a civilian nuclear power program if the Islamic republic agrees to international controls to ensure it will not build an atomic arsenal.
The Europeans are seeking to build on a package of economic and political incentives offered to Iran in August last year in return for a permanent end to uranium enrichment activities.
Iran rejected that deal, but EU governments have continued to offer sweeteners to persuade Teheran to bring its nuclear program into line, as well as pushing at the United Nations for measures that could lead to sanctions if Iran refuses.
Iran's Foreign Minister said in Bali, however, that "no incentive can be interesting for the Iranian government and the Iranian nation unless it includes Iran's right to benefit from nuclear technology."
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