TEHRAN, Iran, (AP) – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that Iran would only halt its uranium enrichment program and return to negotiations if other Western nations do the same.
Ahmadinejad told a crowd of thousands in northern Iran one day ahead of a U.N. Security Council deadline that it was no problem for his country to stop, but that “fair talks” demanded a similar gesture from the West.
“That … we shut down our nuclear fuel cycle program to let talks begin. It’s no problem. But justice demands that those who want to hold talks with us shut down their nuclear fuel cycle program too. Then, we can hold dialogue under a fair atmosphere,” Ahmadinejad said.
The Security Council has set Wednesday as a deadline for Iran to stop uranium enrichment or face further economic sanctions.
Ahmadinejad spoke in a far more conciliatory tone than the one he usually adopts, avoiding fiery denunciations of the West with a call for talks.
“We are for talks but they have to be fair negotiations. That means, both sides hold talks under equal conditions,” he said.
He added, however, that it was unacceptable for countries to demand that Iran stop its nuclear activities without reciprocity.
“We say how is it that your (nuclear fuel) production facilities work 24 hours a day, but you feel threatened by our newly established complex and we need to shut it down for talks,” he asked.
Iran has long insisted that it will not stop its nuclear activities as a condition for negotiations to start.
“The condition they set for talks is a condition that deprives us of our rights,” Ahmadinejad said of the United States and its Western allies. “We have never been after confrontation and tension. We have always been for dialogue but dialogue under fair conditions.”
On Dec. 23 the Security Council agreed to impose limited sanctions against Iran and gave the country 60 days to halt enrichment or face additional measures.
At the time, Iran rejected the resolution as “illegal” and said it would not give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel.
The United States and several of its Western allies believe that Iran is using its nuclear program to produce an atomic weapon — charges Iran denies, saying its aim is to generate electricity.
Enriched to a low level, uranium is used to produce nuclear fuel but further enrichment makes it suitable for use in building an atomic bomb.
Ahmadinejad said Iran would not give in to coercion and warned the United States and its allies they will fail to force it into give up its nuclear program.
“If you want to speak from the position of power and make use of the oppressing leverage of some international institutions, you have to know the you will fail against the unity and resistance of the Iranian nation,” he said.
Russia’s nuclear agency spokesman warned Tuesday that Iranian delays in payments for the construction of a Russian-built nuclear plant would push back its launch date and uranium fuel deliveries from Russia.
A top nuclear official in Iran on Monday rejected Russian claims that Tehran had been dragging its feet on payments, and accused Moscow of trying to delay the launch of the reactor.
But Russia’s Federal Nuclear Power Agency spokesman Sergei Novikov insisted Tuesday that Iran has made no payments this month, and paid only a quarter of what was due last month.
Novikov told The Associated Press that Iran was to pay Russia $25 million a month for construction works at the Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran, adding that Iran has continuously dragged its feet on meeting the obligations.