WASHINGTON – Iran's foreign minister said his country is willing to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear agency as the United States and Russia press Tehran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program.
He also indicated that Iran was receptive to resuming talks with the United States. Talks last were held in May in Geneva (search), under the auspices of the United Nations.
Discussions began not long after the Afghan war started in the fall of 2001 and initially were largely limited to developments in Afghanistan. They grew to include exchanges on Iraq, with which Iran fought an eight-year war in the 1980s. Iran shares long borders with Afghanistan and Iraq.
"To start any dialogue between Iran and the United States, this has to be based on mutual respect and equal footing," Kharrazi said in the interview, taped Saturday. "Otherwise, there's no meaning to have such a dialogue."
He said Iran does not want the Bush administration "to interfere in our internal affairs. We want the United States to take gestures to prove that it's sincere in its call for a dialogue."
Relations with Washington were severed after Iranian militants overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held U.S. diplomats hostage until 1981.
Officials in the Clinton and Bush administrations have suggested from time to time that there was a reformist surge in Iran that could have a moderating influence on the Muslim fundamentalist government.
Still, the State Department this year again accused Iran of sponsoring terrorism. Iran also is accused regularly of trying to undercut peace efforts in the Middle East.
Asked if Iran was prepared to restart the talks, the foreign minister replied, "If it is useful."
On Saturday, President Bush and visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin (search) urged Iran to abandon its suspected nuclear weapons program.
Putin, though, gave no indication he was willing to pull back from an $800 million deal to build a nuclear power plant in southern Iran, although Bush has pressed the Russian leader for two years to abandon the project.
The IAEA said last week it had found new evidence that Iran is enriching uranium.
Kharrazi said the "contamination" of the uranium had occurred outside Iran. He said, however, that uranium enrichment "is legal, and nothing is wrong as long as it is under the auspices of the IAEA and the inspection regime."
In Tehran, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman reaffirmed his country's commitment to its nuclear program.
"Relinquishing peaceful nuclear technology or enriching uranium is not a subject Iran can compromise on," Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters.
Putin said Russia would "give a clear but respectful signal to Iran about the necessity to continue and expand its cooperation" with international inspectors.
Bush said, "We share a goal and that is to make sure Iran doesn't have a nuclear weapon, or a nuclear weapons program."
Iran says its nuclear programs are to produce energy and that the traces of weapons-grade material were imported on equipment purchased from abroad. "We want to make sure that we can continue with enrichment facilities to produce fewer needed power fuels," Kharrazi said,
The United States and its allies argue the only purpose of Iran's nuclear efforts is for weapons programs.
The U.N. agency has set an Oct. 31 deadline for Iran to prove that its nuclear program is for energy purposes and not for weapons.
Asked about the deadline, Kaharrazi said, "We want to make sure that this is enough and is going to solve our problems and remove all suspicions."