TEHRAN, (Reuters) – Iran’s supreme leader said on Tuesday the country would not benefit from talks with the United States, although Washington said it did not view the comment as Iran’s final word on proposals to defuse a nuclear standoff.
“Negotiating with America does not have any benefit for us and we do not need such negotiations,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was quoted as saying by state television.
Washington’s offer to talk with its long time foe was viewed as a major policy shift and by some analysts, particularly in the West, as a possible deal clincher.
As part of package of incentives backed by six world powers, United States offered to join the European Union’s direct talks with Iran if Tehran first agreed to suspend uranium enrichment. But Iran has shown no sign it is ready to stop enrichment and says it is suspicious of U.S. motives.
“Negotiating with America does not have any benefit for us and we do not need such negotiations,” Khamenei was quoted as saying by state television.
Iran has yet to respond to the package but is under mounting Western pressure to give a reply by a mid-July summit of leaders from the Group of Eight industrial countries in Russia.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Iran will reply by Aug. 22. The United States says this is too long.
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Kofi Annan Tehran pressed a top Iranian official to speed up Tehran’s response. Annan told reporters it was “still possible for them to give an answer before mid-August.”
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who was in New York to address a U.N. conference, did not immediately respond, a U.N. official said.
“We think Iran owes us a response right now, basically,” John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said on Tuesday.
Khamenei did not rule out nuclear negotiations, although he insisted any such talks would be on Iranian terms.
“We will not negotiate with anybody on our certain right to reach and use nuclear technology. However, if they recognize this right for us, we are prepared to talk about international controls, supervision and guarantees, and the grounds for such negotiations have been prepared,” Khamenei said.
White House spokesman Tony Snow called Khamenei’s comments “ambiguous” and said there was a pattern of “differing voices coming out of Iran.”
“We’re going to let different factions within the Iranian government publicly and privately figure out how they’re going to respond,” Snow said.
The Bush administration expects the official reaction to be delivered through EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana from Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, Snow said.
British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett said major world powers were pressing Iran for a further meeting between Solana and Larijani which she hoped would be soon. The West would not, however, be drawn into talks about talks, she said.
Iranian officials have said Iran will not back down on what they say is Iran’s right to produce nuclear fuel, a demand Western nations have said is unacceptable.
The United States and some of its Western allies suspect Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear bomb. Iran, the world’s fourth biggest oil exporter, argues it needs atomic technology to meet booming power demand in civilian plants.
Iran could face U.N. Security Council sanctions if it rejects the package offered by the six powers — the United States, France, Russia, China, Britain and Germany.