Tehran is willing to resume talks: Ahmadinejad

By Farhad Pouladi, AFP

TEHRAN — Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday that Tehran is ready to sit down with world powers for talks on its nuclear drive as he downplayed the harmful effects of newly imposed sanctions. The Islamic republic, which was already under four rounds of United Nations sanctions, vehemently denies its nuclear program masks an atomic weapons drive as the West alleges, and insists it is for civilian purposes only. “They have this excuse that Iran is dodging negotiations while it is not the case,” the Iranian leader was quoted as saying by state media. “A person who has logic and has right on his side, why should (he) refrain from negotiations?” He was implicitly responding to comments made by Western officials urging the Islamic republic to return to negotiations over its contested nuclear program. The last round of talks between Iran and the major powers consisting of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States was held in Turkey in January 2011, but the negotiations collapsed. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on Tuesday: “The European Union stands together in sending that clear message to the government of Iran: that we wish to go back to negotiations, to invite them to pick up the issues which were left on the table in Istanbul a year ago.”

The six powers are still waiting for Iran’s reply to a letter Ashton sent in October, stressing that negotiations should focus on the “key question” of the Iranian nuclear issue, in order to remove doubts. The United States declined to directly respond to Ahmadinejad’s comments Thursday, saying instead that Tehran should formally reply to Ashton’s letter. “Our position is that it is as it always has been — the Iranian regime needs to live up to its obligations to the international community,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One. In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the letter “very specifically offers talks if Iran is ready to be serious about coming clean with regard to its nuclear program.” “So just saying you’re open for talks doesn’t meet the criteria that we have set, which is to be ready for talks and ready to be serious about letting the world know all of the details of your nuclear program and proving your claims that it’s for peaceful purposes.”