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Iran wants nuclear talks, but not at gunpoint

N. Ram, Siddharth Varadarajan and John Cherian

No problem with India's nuclear deal, only with U.S. `double standards'

PHOTO: N. RAM

Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, speaking to The Hindu at his office in Tehran.

Tehran: In his first reaction to the United Nations Security Council deadline for Iran to suspend all fuel enrichment activity, the Islamic Republic's top nuclear negotiator said his country was always ready for "just and constructive" negotiations but would never agree to change its policies under pressure.

Ali Larijani, Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told The Hindu and Frontline in an interview here on Saturday, that by pushing through Resolution 1696 the United States and its allies have "kicked out" the package of nuclear proposals they themselves had presented to Iran in June.

The package — drafted by the `five plus one', that is, the five permanent members of the UNSC and Germany — centres on Iran agreeing to a voluntary suspension of enrichment in exchange for a European commitment to provide Tehran light water reactors and nuclear fuel. Iran had said it would formulate a detailed response to the package by August 22. But the Security Council last week set a deadline of August 31, threatening Iran with sanctions if its fuel cycle activities were not halted by then.

Asked whether Iran would still give its response, Mr. Larijani said: "This package does not have any use. We are not in charge of this. Those who have done this act are the ones who should give their response." Iran was always ready for "just and constructive" talks. "But we don't accept negotiations under pressure." Maybe the `five plus one' thought this resolution would be a stick over Iran's head, he observed, but they had made a mistake. "They want to put pressure on us but it won't have any effect. If anything, it may lead to a very harsh reaction by us."

In his first substantive meeting with the European Union's negotiator, Javier Solana, on July 11, Mr. Larijani pointed out a number of ambiguities in the proposals. "We agreed that this package would be considered a base for starting our logical cooperation. But its scope should be complete and its ambiguities removed." The fact that the `five plus one' decided the very next day to move the Security Council — "before we have had any chance to have further meetings" — showed the real intention behind the package, he charged.

Asked again whether Iran would issue a counter-package to the `five plus one' on August 22, Mr. Larijani said he did not wish to pass judgment at this stage but the fact was that no one in Iran had any trust in them. "In an atmosphere where there is no trust, packages are meaningless."

Iran's top nuclear negotiator accused the U.S. of practising double standards. "You can compare the attitude of the U. S. towards the atomic programmes of Iran and India," he said. "India does not accept the NPT and has the atomic bomb but the Americans don't have any problem with this and are also concluding a long-term nuclear energy agreement with India. But we are members of the NPT and we don't have the bomb. Why do they have this kind of attitude towards Iran?" he asked.

Mr. Larijani added: "For us, India is a friendly country and we don't have any problem that you have concluded a nuclear energy agreement with the United States. But what we want to clarify is the double standard policy of the United States."

Asked about India's vote against Iran at the IAEA, Mr. Larijani said Tehran was not disappointed as far as bilateral relations with Delhi were concerned. "This type of stand, before it harms us, will harm the reputation of the country [involved] because it shows the political capacity of the country for resolving the problems."

Had India's IAEA vote complicated the $5 billion contract for importing LNG from Iran? "No, because we're not looking at international issues like a child!" Mr. Larijani responded. "Maybe a country that has friendly relations with us must use its reputation and its capacity in a right way. It doesn't mean we have to come up with any illogical reaction from our side."

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