Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday that he was prepared to hold direct talks with United States if the West stops pressuring his country over the Islamic Republic's contentious nuclear program.
Ahmadinejad's remarks to a rally marking the 34th anniversary of the 1979 Islamicrevolution come after Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who hasfinal say on all key decisions, effectively closed the door on direct talkswith Washington as long as sanctions and other pressures remain.
Khameini rejected U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's offer for talks by accusing Washington of "holding a gun against Iran saying, 'Talks or you'll fire.'"
"The Iranian nation will not be frightened by such threats," Khameinei added. Washington has indicated in the past that it's prepared to talk directly with Iran on the nuclear issue, but so far nothing has come of it. Meanwhile, the wider talks between Iran and world powers have made little headway. Three rounds last year ended in stalemate with Tehran pushing for a roll back of Western sanctions in exchange for any key concessions on its nuclear program.
Ahmadinejad made his own declaration regarding the negotiations, drawing on Khamenei's remarks that the Americans were threatening the Islamic Republic. "You pull away the gun from the face of the Iranian nation, I myself will enter the talks with you," Ahmadinejad said, in what seems to be an attempt to retain the appearance of political relevance goinginto his final months of office.
American proposals for direct dialogue with Iran received a cautious welcome Sunday from Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, but with caveats that Washington needs to quiet its "threatening rhetoric" for the offer to get real consideration by Tehran's ruling clerics.
The U.S. and Iran broke ties after the storming of the American Embassy in Tehran in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Iranian militants held 52American hostages for 444 days.
Despite his declared willingness to consider negotiations, Ahmadinejad vowed during his speech that Iran would not make concessions with the West over its nuclear program.
"Today Iran is a country with nuclear know-how, whether you (West) like it or not," Ahmadinejad said from Tehran's Azadi [freedom] Square.
"Therefore it would better for you [West] to accept it and try to find some understanding with us," he said in the speech broadcast on state television.
He said that 34 years after the revolution, the enemies of Iran should know that pressure and intimidation would not work.
"One thing should be clear even for our worst enemies: This nation has shown a holy and incredible resistance against all pressures by the enemies and will also now not move one iota from pursuing its [nuclear] rights," Ahmadinejad said.
Iranian officials will meet next week with an International Atomic Energy Agency team, and resume nuclear negotiations with the six world powers at the end of the month in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Ahmadinejad referred to direct nuclear negotiations with the United States, saying Iran would welcome logical negotiations based on mutual respect, but not the pressure of sanctions or military threats.
Rallies to mark the anniversary of the Islamic revolution were being held across the country. According to official media, hundreds of thousands in Tehran and millions of people nationwide attended the state-organized rallies.
State television showed pictures of crowds shouting the standard slogans, "Death to America" and "Death to Israel".
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