Iran on Saturday said it was ready for talks with global powers but has stressed that it will not compromise its nuclear programme.
“Iran is seriously willing to enter talks with the world powers on the basis of the items mentioned in the latest package,” said Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, at press conference in Tehran.
On Friday, the U.S., the other four permanent members of the Security Council and Germany officially conveyed their readiness for a meeting with Iran. Two days earlier, Mr. Mottaki had delivered to the envoys of six countries in Tehran, a five-page proposal for starting talks.
The text of the Iranian document, posted on a New York-based website ProPublica, expressed Iran’s “readiness to embark on comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive negotiations”. However, the paper did not address the longstanding demand of the sextet that Iran should halt uranium enrichment and clarify that it is not running a nuclear weapons programme.
After holding a telephonic conference among the six nations, the European Union’s Foreign policy chief Javier Solana contacted on Friday the office of Iran’s lead negotiator on the nuclear issue, Saeed Jalili, seeking an urgent meeting of the group with Iran.
Earlier, the U.S. explained the purpose of the proposed meeting with Iran. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Philip Crowley stressed that Iran’s nuclear programme would be the focus of the meeting. He added that the Iranian proposal “does not cover the nuclear issue,” but that was “precisely why we think we need an early meeting”.
The decision to talk to Iran followed the lack of consensus among global powers on other possible options that have been under consideration, such as imposition of fresh sanctions.
Russia has strongly opposed new sanctions including curbs on fresh investments in Iran’s energy sector and denial of gasoline exports.
Speaking at the Valdai Discussion Club, an annual meeting of Russian experts, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “Some of the sanctions under discussion, including oil and oil products, are not a mechanism to force Iran to cooperate. They are a step to a full-blown blockade, and I do not think they would be supported at the U.N. Security Council.”
Mr. Lavrov pointed out that Iran’s proposals opened the door for its possible role to stabilise the region, in flashpoints such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
Analysts point out that Russia has the necessary leverage to block sanctions or military action against Iran. Apart from being a veto-wielding member in the Security Council, Russia had agreed in 2007 to supply S-300 air defence missiles to Iran. These missiles, if deployed to protect Iran’s nuclear installations, can effectively deter airstrikes mounted either by Israel or the United States.
In a setback to Israel which has been trying to persuade Washington not to engage in a lengthy diplomatic process with Iran over its nuclear programme, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E.Rice was quoted as saying the Obama administration would not impose “artificial deadlines” on Tehran.