TEHRAN -- A breakthrough in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program is possible, the republic's president told the UN chief yesterday while welcoming unconditional talks with all parties, including the United States.
However, a US offer for negotiations is conditioned on Iran suspending its enrichment of uranium and related activities and allowing inspections to prove it.
Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said a settlement could take place as long as the International Atomic Energy Agency -- the UN's nuclear watchdog -- preserved Tehran's right to use atomic energy, Iran's state-run television reported.
``A breakthrough to overcome world problems, including Iran's nuclear case, would be the equal implementation of the law for all," state television quoted Ahmadinejad as telling Kofi Annan, the UN secretary general, in a phone conversation.
Ahmadinejad's comments alluded to the IAEA treaty, which Iran has signed and allows member states to pursue nuclear energy for peaceful uses.
The United States and other Western nations suspect Iran's nuclear program is intended to produce weapons. Tehran has maintained it is for generating electricity.
In a major policy shift, the United States agreed last week to join France, Britain, and Germany in talks with Iran, provided Tehran suspends all suspect nuclear activities. It would be the first major public negotiations between Washington and Tehran in more than 25 years.
Six world powers decided Thursday to offer Iran a new package of incentives if it gives up uranium enrichment or impose sanctions if it refuses. The United States warned Friday that Iran does not have much time to respond to the proposal, suggesting that the window could close and be replaced by penalties.
Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana would deliver the package to Iranian officials in the next few days.
``We are waiting to officially receive the proposals. We will make our views known after studying the package," Mottaki said yesterday, adding that Iran would not join talks if conditions were attached.
The package, agreed upon by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, carries the threat of UN sanctions if Tehran remains defiant over its nuclear program.
At an Asian security conference, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Washington was hoping for a positive Iranian response to the incentives package.
The Pentagon chief said he hoped Iran would ``recognize the seriousness and substance" of the offer. He added that the United States agreed to the proposals because progress in talks involving Iran and Europe had ``arrived at a point where it seemed not to be moving forward."
On April 11, Iran announced that it had enriched uranium for the first time, using 164 centrifuges. Enrichment can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or material for a warhead -- but tens of thousands of centrifuges are needed to do either on a large scale.
Iran intends to move toward large-scale uranium enrichment involving 3,000 centrifuges by late 2006 but also has indicated it may suspend large-scale uranium enrichment to ease tensions.