TEHRAN: President Hassan Rowhani said Tuesday that Iran was ready for “serious” talks on its nuclear programme without delay and that US calls for tougher sanctions showed a lack of understanding.
Addressing his first news conference since taking office on Saturday, Rowhani said that he would not surrender Iran’s rights but that he wanted to allay Western concerns.
“As the president of the Islamic republic, I am announcing that there is the political will to solve this issue and also take into consideration the concerns of the other sides,” he said.
“We are the people of interaction and talks, with seriousness and without wasting time, if the other sides are ready.”
Rowhani headed Iran’s nuclear negotiating team under reformist president Mohammad Khatami in the early 2000s and Western leaders have expressed hope of a more constructive approach in the protracted talks.
The hardline policies of his firebrand predecessor as president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, prompted crippling EU and US sanctions against Iran’s oil and banking sectors that he has vowed to seek to relax.
Rowhani said there could be no surrender of the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy that Iran claims under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
“Iran’s peaceful nuclear programme is a national issue… we will not give up the rights of the Iranian people,” he said.
“We will preserve our rights based on the international regulations.”
He said Iran would not give up uranium enrichment — the sensitive nuclear activity at the heart of Western concerns which Iran suspended when Rowhani was chief negotiator a decade ago.
“In Iran, nobody has said we will give up uranium enrichment, no one and at no time,” he said.
Rowhani also reiterated his insistence that Iran would not negotiate under the threat of economic sanctions or military action.
He hit out at “contradictory messages” from Washington, with the White House saying that it would be a “willing partner” in genuine talks, but the US Senate urging tougher sanctions.
“Recent declarations from the White House show that some US officials do not have a correct and realistic assessment of the situation here and the message that the Iranian people gave in the election,” Rowhani said.
“They are still sending contradictory messages,” he said, adding: “We care about the US response in deeds, not in words.”
On Sunday, the White House said Iran would find the United States a “willing partner” if Rowhani is prepared to engage substantively and seriously on its nuclear programme.
In a message congratulating Rowhani on his inauguration, the White House said it “presents an opportunity for Iran to act quickly to resolve the international community’s deep concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme.”
Western governments suspect that Iran’s nuclear programme is cover for a drive for a weapons capability, an ambition Tehran strongly denies.
He charged that the letter was the work of a “foreign country” and its supporters in the United States, a clear allusion to Iran’s archfoe Israel.
“The interests of a foreign country and the will of a certain group have been imposed on US lawmakers, which does not serve the interests of the United States,” he said.
Israel — which has the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear arsenal — has refused to rule out a resort to military action to prevent Iran developing a weapons capability.
It says that any such arsenal would pose an “existential threat” to the Jewish state, and that Rowhani’s assumption of the presidency will make no difference to Iranian nuclear policy, which is set by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Washington too has said that the military option remains on the table if diplomatic avenues are exhausted.
There have been repeated rounds of talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States plus Germany but they have so far failed to allay Western concerns.
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