Iran's hardline president said Monday he would welcome direct, bilateral talks with the U.S. if both parties are on equal footing.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told state television such talks could happen in the near future. He did not elaborate nor say whether any definite plans were under way.

"We will hold talks with the United States if they come to us on equal footing," Ahmadinejad said in a live speech on state TV near midnight.

Washington has no diplomatic ties with Iran because it regards the country as a state sponsor of terror. But recognizing its influence on Iraq stability, officials last year opened limited discussions with Iranian officials by demanding the country stop arming Shiite militias there.

The U.S. has also said it will not talk with Iran about its disputed nuclear program unless Tehran agrees first to halt uranium enrichment - a process that can be used to generate electricity, or make a nuclear bomb.

"Equal footing means that when two people want to talk, both have to be on equal terms. Dialogue doesn't make any sense if one side stands in a higher position and the other in a lower position," Ahmadinejad said Monday.

For years, Iran has vehemently opposed any direct talks with Washington, though it has held limited, trilateral discussions with the U.S. and Iraq recently.

The father of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, likened any relationship between Washington and Tehran as that of a wolf and sheep.

But Iran's current top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - who repeatedly rejected such talks in the past - has softened his tone in recent months.

In January, Khamenei said Iran's relationship with the United States might not be severed forever. He said he would be the first to support resuming diplomatic ties with Washington, but that doing so now would be harmful to Iran's interests.

There is no indication, however, that Washington would be open to direct talks.

Tension remains high between Tehran and the West over Iran's nuclear ambitions. But the country's defiance to the U.S. demand that it stop enriching uranium could embolden Iranian leaders and give them confidence to stand up to the U.S. in direct talks.

The United States cut diplomatic ties with Iran shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, when militant students seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and published sensitive documents they found inside documenting American intelligence-gathering in the country.

The embassy, labeled by Iran as a den of spies, is occasionally opened to the public as a museum documenting American misadventures in Iran and the wider Middle East.

The Swiss Embassy in Tehran looks after U.S. interests in Iran, while the Iranians have an interest section in Pakistan's embassy in Washington.

Last month, the Bush administration said it was considering setting up a diplomatic outpost in Iran in what would mark a dramatic U.S. return to the country nearly 30 years after the two nations severed relations.

They haven't demanded it (formally) yet. But if they do...we will study it with a positive view, Ahmadinejad said Monday.