Iran ‘Ready for Unconditional Nuclear Talks’

TEHRAN ~ A top Iranian nuclear official said Tehran was ready to hold talks with the West on its atomic drive “without preconditions,” state television reported, amid US threats of more sanctions.

“Negotiations without preconditions is Iran’s main stance on the nuclear issue,” Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

US President Barack Obama has given Iran until September to take up the offer of talks on trade benefits if it freezes uranium enrichment, or face harsher sanctions.

Six major powers involved in the talks – the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany – called in April for a resumption of the negotiations, which had stalled in September.

But prospects of a breakthrough have been clouded by the deep political turmoil in Iran over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s disputed re-election in June which have seen relations with the West take a turn for the worse.

Iran has said it is drafting a new package for the world powers in a bid to solve global issues, including the nuclear dossier.

In a dramatic shift from his predecessor George W. Bush’s policies, Obama said after taking office in January that the United States was open to dialogue with its arch-foe if the Islamic republic’s leaders “unclenched their fist.”

However, Washington warned earlier this month that it may seek tough new sanctions on Iran if it misses the September deadline.

“We’re not prepared to talk about any specific steps,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on August 3.

“But I have said repeatedly that, in the absence of some positive response from the Iranian government, the international community will consult about next steps, and certainly next steps can include certain sanctions.”

The West and Israel suspect Iran of secretly trying to build nuclear weapons, charges denied by OPEC’s number two oil exporter which inists its atomic programme is for energy generation.

However, Iran has defied repeated UN Security Council calls, and three sets of sanctions, to halt uranium enrichment, the process which makes nuclear fuel but also the core of an atomic bomb.

Nevertheless, the US State Department’s intelligence bureau has concluded that Iran will not be capable of producing weapons-grade uranium for weapons before 2013, national intelligence director Dennis Blair has told Congress.

Iran’s nuclear drive was also one of the key topics of discussion at a meeting between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Israeli counterpart Shimon Peres on Tuesday.

Russia is helping Iran build its first nuclear power station while Israel – believed to be the only nuclear armed state in the Middle East – has not ruled out military action to halt Tehran’s atomic drive.

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