Wed, Jul 30, 2008 - Page 6 News List

US skeptical of Tehran’s offer

NEW APPROACH While the Iranian president promised a positive response if the US showed sincerity, Washington expressed doubts over Tehran’s conflicting messages

AFP , WASHINGTON

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview aired on US television on Monday that if Washington adopted a genuinely new approach to his country, Tehran would respond in a positive way.

“Today, we see new behavior shown by the United States and the officials of the United States. My question is, is such behavior rooted in a new approach?” the president told NBC in a rare interview with a US broadcaster.

“In other words, mutual respect, cooperation and justice? Or is this approach a continuation in the confrontation with the Iranian people, but in a new guise?” he said from Tehran, speaking through an interpreter.

If US behavior represented a genuine change, “we will be facing a new situation and the response by the Iranian people will be a positive one,” Ahmadinejad said in the interview, conducted in the presidential compound.

Ahmadinejad’s comments came after the US took the unprecedented step of sending a top diplomat to meet Iran’s chief negotiator at talks in Geneva over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.

The interview followed Ahmadinejad’s announcement on Saturday that Iran had boosted the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges to 6,000 in an expansion of its nuclear drive that defies international calls for a freeze.

Iran faces three sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, which makes nuclear fuel as well as the fissile core of an atomic bomb.

Ahmadinejad reiterated in the interview that Tehran did not intend to build nuclear weapons.

“We are not working to manufacture a bomb. We don’t believe in a nuclear bomb,” he said when asked if Iran sought to be a nuclear power.

History has shown that possessing nuclear weapons did not help other countries with their political goals, he said.

“Nuclear bombs belong to the 20th century. We are living in a new century,” he said.

“Nuclear energy is very beneficial and it is very clean by the way. All nations must use it. A bomb obviously is a very bad thing. Nobody should have such a bomb,” he said.

However, the White House remained skeptical of Ahmadinejad’s conciliatory tone.

“I think we have to approach this with a big grain of salt. President Ahmadinejad said one thing to the Iranian people on Saturday and another thing to an American journalist on Monday,” spokeswoman Dana Perino said.

“So I think that all of us need to consider this with a healthy dose of skepticism,” she said.

World powers, concerned Tehran is pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons project, have offered to start pre-negotiations during which Tehran would face no further sanctions if it added no more uranium-enriching centrifuges.

Permanent UN Security Council members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the US — plus Germany have made Iran an offer, which includes trade incentives and help with a civilian nuclear program in return for suspending enrichment.

Iran was given a two-week deadline to respond that expires on Saturday.

When asked about the proposal from Western powers that offers improved trade terms and other incentives, Ahmadinejad said Iran was a “mighty country” and not at all isolated.

“For the continuation of our lives and for progress, we do not need the services, if I can use the word, of a few countries,” he said.

The US has warned Tehran of “punitive measures” if it spurns the offer and presses on with enrichment.

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