Asia-Pacific, Headlines, Middle East & North Africa, North America, Nuclear Energy - Nuclear Weapons, Peace

IRAN: Ready for Dialogue with U.S. Says Khatami

Peyman Pejman

ALMATY, Kazakhstan, Apr 19 2007 (IPS) - Iran is ready for dialogue with the United States despite the belligerent rhetoric of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, according to his predecessor in office, Mohammed Khatami.

"If there is a new crisis in the Middle East, Iran will suffer but everyone (else) will also suffer, including the U.S.," Khatami told the Eurasia Media Forum here Thursday. "Today there is a readiness (in Iran for dialogue) but you should pressure your government (U.S.) to resolve issues through negotiation if there is a good will."

On the panel with Khatami was former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Richard Holbrooke, who welcomed the Iranian leader&#39s assertions, but said there was plenty of scepticism in Washington about statements coming from Tehran.

"He (Khatami) called for dialogue and I welcome that, but dialogue requires both sides (to be) listening,&#39&#39 Holbrooke, still active in Washington&#39s diplomatic circles, told the gathering.

Holbrooke said Ahmadinejad&#39s statements, such as that the Jewish Holocaust never occurred, were "inexplicable" and that "many in the world" doubted Iran&#39s denials about wanting to develop nuclear weapons.

Khatami, seen as the leader of the so-called moderate front in Iran, backed his country&#39s president saying Iran has "no intention" of developing nuclear weapons. He added, however, that threats by the U.S. administration of military strikes could only complicate an already delicate situation.

"I can tell you very clearly that developing nuclear weapons does not exist in Iran&#39s military doctrine," said Khatami. "We are part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and reaching an objective guarantee (that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons) is possible and we have the solutions to offer."

Washington has repeatedly asked Iran to take "verifiable" steps to show it is not developing nuclear weapons. The administration of President George W. Bush has said the only objective way of ascertaining that Iran is not building nuclear weapons is by allowing UN inspectors to visit all Iranian facilities. Iran has not agreed to that.

Khatami&#39s statement came a day after a leaked report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran is delivering small amounts of uranium gas to centrifuges that can enrich it to weapons-grade level and is running more than 1,300 centrifuge machines.

The Associated Press report said the leaked letter was written by a senior IAEA official who had also complained about the Iranian government preventing agency officials from visiting a heavy water facility.

Khatami said Iran&#39s oil resources are shrinking and it would be irresponsible for the Tehran government not to look at alternative energy sources. Iran, he said, has "every right" to have access to peaceful nuclear technology. "There is a double standard in this issue. There are many countries that are not even part of the NPT and have hundreds of warheads and then there is one country that is a member of the NPT and wants nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and you are objecting," he said.

Trying to take the middle ground between the Iranian and U.S. positions, former Russian foreign minister Yevgeni Primakov said while he does not believe Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, it is not handling the issue diplomatically well either.

"There are a couple of dozen countries enriching uranium, and to say that Iran cannot do it is wrong. After all, what are they going to do with a nuclear bomb? Attack Israel? That would destroy all of Palestine as well," he said, to the laughter of Khatami and others on the panel.

"What I am concerned with is that Iran is not behaving smartly with its own tactics. When they say, &#39We have no political decisions (to develop nuclear bombs) and are ready to cooperate with the IAEA,&#39 we are not getting clear answers. That creates suspicions," said Primakov.

Russia has had a role in Iran&#39s nuclear ambitions. Much to the chagrin of Washington, Moscow has agreed to provide Iran with much of the technology it needs. But at the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said his country is opposed to Iran getting access to nuclear weapons technology. Many experts have said that giving Iran the uranium enrichment capability would be tantamount to passing on skills to build a bomb.

Primakov said Russia was against any use of military force against Iran while Holbrooke believed that &#39&#39using military force against Iran when we are involved in conflicts in the east and west of Iran is not realistic&#39&#39. As for talk of "surgical operations", that was &#39&#39just a catchphrase that is also not viable."

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