"Should conditions be ripe, there is a possibility of talks," said Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki.
Nuclear talks possible, top Iran diplomat says
Changes course with UN, West
TEHRAN - Iran is not ruling out talks about its nuclear program with world powers but conditions for that have to be right, the country’s top diplomat said yesterday, in a statement that appeared to soften Tehran’s persistent refusal to discuss the controversial issue.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said he welcomed talks with the United States and its partners, adding that “should conditions be ripe, there is a possibility of talks about the nuclear issue.’’
The remarks came as the United States and its partner nations accepted a proposal made earlier this week from Iran for broad talks, though Tehran had said the nuclear issue was not on the table - and indicated Iran’s eagerness to open a dialogue.
Iran on Wednesday presented the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council - United States, Russia, France, Britain, and China - plus Germany with a proposal to hold “comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive’’ talks on a range of security issues, including global nuclear disarmament.
The five-page document made no mention of Tehran’s suspected nuclear program, which the West fears masks a nuclear arms pursuit but which Tehran asserts is only for electricity production.
It also ignored binding UN Security Council resolutions that require Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment, which is a possible pathway to nuclear weapons.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday that Tehran will neither halt uranium enrichment nor negotiate over its nuclear rights. But Mottaki’s comments to reporters on Saturday indicated the nuclear program was not off limits.
“Should the conditions be ripe, there is a possibility of talks about the nuclear issue with the West, given the new package we have presented,’’ Mottaki was quoted as saying on state television.
Mottaki, who spoke to reporters after a visit by Turkey’s foreign minister, did not elaborate and it was too early to tell whether his comments meant more than Tehran’s willingness to meet the West face-to-face.
While the West’s key demand is for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, Tehran has repeatedly stressed it will never give up its right, under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel.
US officials say Iran is close to having the capabilities to produce a nuclear weapon should it make a political decision to do so.
They say the latest report by the UN nuclear watchdog agency shows that Tehran is either very near or already in possession of sufficient low-enriched uranium to produce one nuclear weapon, if the decision were made to further enrich it to weapons-grade.
The International Atomic Energy Agency describes in its latest report how Iran now has, at a minimum, 3,153 pounds of low-enriched uranium hexafluoride.
Iran insists its program is peaceful but the West worries it is covertly trying to build a bomb.
President Obama and European allies have given Iran until the end of September to take up an offer of nuclear talks with six world powers and trade incentives should it suspend uranium enrichment activities. If not, Iran could face harsher punitive sanctions. Iran already has defied three sets of UN Security Council sanctions since 2006 for its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment.
US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Friday that although Iran’s proposal had sidestepped the nuclear issue, it represented a chance for a dialogue.
The Obama administration has expressed interest in discussing numerous other issues with Iran, including cooperation in stabilizing two Iranian neighbors - Afghanistan and Iraq - as well as alleged Iranian support for terrorist groups.