Iranian Supreme Leader Rejects Talks With America
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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Iran does “not need” talks with the United States over its nuclear program because nothing would be gained, state television reported Tuesday.
Khamenei, who has the final word on all state matters, did not give his position on a package of incentives offered by the West to persuade Iran to impose a long-term moratorium on the enrichment of uranium.
But he took a tough line on the final goal of the package: resuming negotiations that the United States hopes will persuade Iran to completely give up enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear generators or the material for nuclear warheads.
“Negotiations with the United States would have no benefit for us, and we do not need them,” state television quoted Khamenei as telling Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.
He said Iran was willing to hold talks on its own terms, warning that the West can misuse the negotiating process to bar Tehran from what it considers its right to pursue enrichment.
“We do not negotiate with anybody on achieving and exploiting nuclear technology,” Khamenei said. “But if they recognize our nuclear rights, we are ready to negotiate about controls, supervisions and international guarantees.”
White House press secretary Tony Snow said the Bush administration has heard varying responses from different quarters in Iran. He said Khamenei’s remarks were “ambiguous,” and the administration expects a formal response from Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, to European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
“We’re waiting for a consistent, official response,” Snow said.
Khamenei’s comments could be interpreted as an attempt to ease pressure from Iran’s hard-liners, who have demanded the government reject the incentives package and who consider talks with the United States to be a surrender.
Earlier this year, Khamenei supported negotiations with Washington over stabilizing neighboring Iraq. In doing so, he overruled hard-liners’ opposition, though the prospects of U.S.-Iranian talks on Iraq have fallen apart since then.
Iran has yet to reply to the incentives package presented June 6. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last week the government would respond in mid-August, a timeline that President Bush disapproves of.
If Iran accepts, the United States has offered to join European nations in multilateral talks with Tehran over a framework that will guarantee its nuclear program cannot produce weapons.
The package also offers the lifting of some U.S. sanctions and other economic incentives, as well as a promise of American and European nuclear technology for Iran.
Washington’s offer to join talks was seen as a major concession since the United States lists Iran as a sponsor of international terrorism and there have been no diplomatic relations between the two countries since 1979, when militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took Americans hostage for 444 days.
Bush has warned Iran that it faces U.N. Security Council action unless it accepts the incentives. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned Iran on Saturday that it faces isolation if it rejects the package.
The United States and its allies suspect that Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities are a cover for a weapons program. Iran insists its nuclear program is limited to peaceful energy uses.