Iran sets conditions for nuclear talks

President Ahmadinejad says the 5+1 group of nations must express its views on Israel's nuclear weapons, and whether it will join and abide by the treaty.

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TEHRAN // President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday said Iran will only return to nuclear talks if the West makes clear its position on Israel's nuclear weapons. Speaking at a near three-hour press conference at Tehran's Presidential Palace, Mr Ahmadinejad set out the conditions for the resumption of talks with the 5+1 group of nations. He said the conditions for talks with the group, which includes the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany, had changed because some of them had failed to appropriately respond to Iran's "confidence-building measures" and had adopted an "unethical" approach to the issue.

The president set out three conditions that have to be met by the western countries before Iran decides to return to the negotiating table and said they would serve to "regulate" the structure of the talks in the future. The conditions include the 5+1's clear announcement of their views on Israel's nuclear weapons; whether 5+1 will abide by the NPT regulations themselves; and to clarify if talks with Iran are actually aimed at resolving the situation, Mr Ahmadinejad declared. Israel has refused to join the NPT, despite being the Middle East's sole nuclear power.

"They should announce what they mean by 'talks', whether it is meant [to generate] friendship or hostility," Mr Ahmadinejad said. "We will talk to those [countries] that are bullies in one manner and with those who want to talk on the basis of logic and law in a different way." The Iranian president also declared that talks with the 5+1 group would be delayed until at least the middle of the holy month of Ramadan - until the end of August.

The delay is meant to "punish them [the West] to teach them a lesson so they learn to respect the manner of talking to [other] nations", he said. Mr Ahmadinejad also reiterated Tehran's stance that the Tehran Declaration, issued last month jointly by Iran, Turkey and Brazil, would be the sole basis for any further nuclear talks. According to the declaration, Iran agreed to transfer 1.2 tonnes of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey to be exchanged within a year for 120kg of 20 per cent uranium that Iran needs as fuel for a medical research reactor in Tehran.

Iran says it has continued enrichment since the declaration was issued and that the country now has a 17kg cache of the 20 per cent uranium in addition to more than two tonnes of low-enriched uranium it has produced over the past few years. Mr Ahmadinejad told reporters yesterday that Turkey and Brazil had directly been asked by the US president, Barack Obama, to mediate between Iran and the West over Iran's nuclear programme but the western countries chose to ignore the Tehran Declaration instead of welcoming it and moved towards a new UN Security Council sanctions resolution against Iran.

Asked to comment on an assertion on Sunday by the head of the United States' Central Intelligence Agency, Leon Panetta, that Iran now has enough low-enriched uranium to build two nuclear bombs within two years, Mr Ahmadinejad said Iranians are more clever than to think they can stand their ground against the 20,000 nuclear bombs that the nuclear powers have. "Nuclear bombs belong to illogical and politically backward governments," he told the press conference.

Speaking to reporters in Toronto on the sideline of the G20 Summit on Sunday, the Russian president Dmitry Medvedev expressed concern about Mr Panetta's assertion. "This needs to be checked ? such information is always alarming because today the international community does not recognise the Iranian nuclear programme as transparent," Mr Medvedev said. The Iranian president added that Iran would also require the participation of other countries, possibly Turkey and Brazil, in its nuclear talks with the West from now on.

"Who says it should be only the 5+1 group that can talk [with Iran], there should be others as well," he said. The UN Security Council approved a fourth and tougher round of sanctions against Iran earlier this month. The resolution affects companies owned by Iran's elite revolutionary guards, the country's banking and shipping industries and allows UN member countries to inspect Iranian cargo ships suspected of carrying banned commodities to Iran.

Sanctions have proved ineffective in the past 28 years and will even boost the country's domestic economy and industries, Mr Ahmadinejad said yesterday. In response to a question on the inspection of cargo ships stipulated by the latest UN sanctions resolution, the Iranian president said Iran would retaliate if its ships are inspected. "We reserve to ourselves the right of retaliation ... we are capable of defending our rights," he said.

Mr Ahmadinejad was also dismissive of the unilateral sanctions approved by the US congress last week that aimed to limit Iran's petrol purchases and hamper Tehran's international transactions. Iran could increase its own petrol production "within a week", Mr Ahmadinejad said. The US Congress legislation would allow the US government to punish companies that sell petrol to Iran as well as banks that conduct business with Iranian banks.