Iran will not negotiate about its nuclear "rights," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Sunday, after the United States said it would focus on the Islamic state's atomic activities in upcoming talks with Tehran.
Iran last week handed over a five-page proposal to the major powers, including the United States, in which Tehran said it was willing to discuss global nuclear disarmament as well as other international issues in wide-ranging talks.
But the document did not mention Iran's own nuclear program, which the West suspects is aimed at making bombs, and officials have made clear the issue will not be part of any discussions with the major powers.
"From the Iranian nation's viewpoint, [Iran's] nuclear case is closed," official media quoted Ahmadinejad as telling Britain's new ambassador to Tehran.
"Possessing peaceful nuclear technology is the Iranian nation's legal and definitive right and it will not hold discussions about its undeniable rights," he said.
But he added Iran was ready to talk about international cooperation to resolve global economic and security issues.
Iran has repeatedly said its nuclear program is for civil energy uses, not weapons.
The United States has said it would accept Iran's offer of wide-ranging talks despite Tehran's stated refusal to discuss its nuclear program, making clear it intended to raise the issue anyway.
"This may not have been a topic that they wanted to be brought up but I can assure that it's a topic that we'll bring up," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Saturday.
Six major powers -- the permanent U.N. Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, as well as Germany -- offered Iran trade and diplomatic incentives in 2006 in exchange for a halt to uranium enrichment.
They improved the offer last year but retained the demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment, something Tehran has ruled out as a precondition.
Ahmadinejad also told British Ambassador Simon Gass when he presented his credentials, that Iran had many "negative memories" about its ties with Britain, state broadcaster IRIB said.
"Of course our look is towards the future and expansion of ties and we hope that the British government has learnt from its past and is moving towards correcting its past actions," said the president, who often rails against the West.
U.S. disappointed by Iran response to dialogue offer
The United States was reportedly disappointed by the Iranian response to the willingness of the Western powers to open dialogue with it.
The Obama administration announced at the end of last week it was ready to begin such a dialogue.
The United States and the five other Western powers are said to want to start talks even before the United Nations General Assembly opens on September 23.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Friday: "Now we are willing to meet with Iran. We hope to meet with Iran. We want to see serious engagement on the nuclear issue, in particular."
A senior government official in Jerusalem commented on the Iranian response, "Iran has spat in the face of the United States and the world."
Iran delivered its response to foreign diplomats in Tehran on Wednesday, which was released publicly on the non-profit Web news site ProPublica Friday morning.
Israel received a copy of the response a few hours earlier.
American officials reportedly told Israel they were disappointed by the document. A senior government official in Jerusalem said, "The Iranians didn't leave even a shred to move ahead with. There will be talks, but it seems the time has come to move to paralyzing sanctions against Iran.
Iran said it was ready to embark on comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations "to lay the groundwork for lasting peace and regionally inspired and generated stability for the region and beyond."
Iran called for a world free of weapons of mass destruction. However, the document ignored the demand from six Western states for a freeze on uranium enrichment. Iran insists its nuclear production is strictly for peaceful, non-military use.
While the Iranian document does not mention Israel, it calls for efforts "to draw up a comprehensive, democratic and equitable plan to help the people of Palestine to achieve all-embracing peace."
The U.S. representative in the dialogue with Iran will be American Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Bill Burns, who met once with the Iranians at the end of the Bush administration.
Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon, who is to arrive in Washington Sunday, will meet with Burns to discuss the Iranian issue.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz is also to meet with American officials this week in Washington on the Iranian issue, particularly with Under Secretary of the Treasury Stuart Levey, who is responsible for formulating new sanctions against Iran.
Senior U.S. administration officials told the New York Times over the weekend they had little expectation of success from talks with Iran.
The French Foreign Ministry said the Iranian document did not constitute a response to the proposal to open talks on its nuclear program.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, however, called the document a step forward and rejected the possibility of further sanctions against Iran.
Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared his opposition Friday to an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Speaking to a group of 50 American scholars, community leaders and other civilians at the Pentagon, Gates said the best response to Iranian attempts to attain nuclear weapons was dialogue.
"There's a lot of talk about a military effort to take out their nuclear capabilities, but, in my view, it would only be a temporary solution.
You could buy one to three years by doing that, but they would simply go deeper and more covert, and it would unify the country and their commitment,"
Gates told the group, which was preparing for a tour of U.S. military facilities in South and Central America.
Gates also told his guests that the Iranian nuclear issue is one of the greatest problems the world has faced in years, and it could touch off a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. He said the only long-term solution is to persuade the Iranian regime that "their long-term security interests are diminished by having nuclear weapons, rather than enhanced."
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