TEHRAN, Iran – Iran has "deep differences" with European negotiators involved in talks about its nuclear program, with both parties signaling mistrust, President Mohammad Khatami (search) said Wednesday.
His remarks came just before President Bush said during a visit to Germany that it was vital for world leaders to stand up to the Iranian regime over the development of nuclear weapons. Bush, who once called Iran part of an "axis of evil" with North Korea and prewar Iraq, suspects Iran is developing atomic bombs.
Khatami reiterated that giving up his country's nuclear program, which Iran maintains is entirely peaceful, was not an option.
"There are deep differences of opinion between Iran and the Europeans," Khatami said. "We have to give objective guarantees to the (European) gentlemen that we won't divert from the peaceful path. They must also ... give objective guarantees that our rights and security will be protected."
Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (search) were discussing tactics on how to persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions.
"It's vital that the Iranians hear the world speak with one voice that they shouldn't have a nuclear weapon," Bush said.
Bush and Schroeder remain far apart on the subject, although Schroeder sought to play down differences. Both leaders said they agreed the end result must be a nuclear-arms-free Iran.
In London, British Prime Minister Tony Blair (search) told the House of Commons on Wednesday that he believed a "diplomatic solution" was possible, and he noted that Bush had expressed support for European efforts.
"We want to make sure that we can get a diplomatic resolution to the issue of Iran, as President Bush made clear over the past few days," Blair said. "There are genuine concerns ... in respect of Iran and the development of nuclear capabilities, Iran and the sponsorship of terrorism, Iran in relation to human rights issues.
"I think it is possible, however, through the engagement that is happening now by Britain, France and Germany, backed by the United States, that we can get a diplomatic solution and that is what we are working for."
Under an agreement reached last year with France, Britain and Germany — who negotiated on behalf of the European Union — Iran suspended all uranium enrichment-related activities, which can make an atomic bomb, to build confidence and avoid U.N. Security Council sanctions.
Iran has said it will decide by mid-March whether to continue its suspension, which is monitored by U.N. nuclear inspectors, depending on the progress of the talks for a final agreement.
Europe is trying to use the talks to persuade Iran to turn its temporary suspension of dual-use nuclear activities into a permanent one.
Khatami reiterated Wednesday that no Iranian government would give up nuclear technology.
"Neither my government nor any other (Iranian) government can give up the definite right of the Iranian nation to have peaceful nuclear technology," Khatami said after a Cabinet meeting.
"We didn't even allow the Europeans to discuss (a permanent) halt of Iran's nuclear activities and they accepted that."
Iranian officials have suggested that accepting a permanent freeze of nuclear activities would cause his government to collapse because the program is a matter of national pride and prestige.
Khatami, however, said he was still hopeful about talks with European negotiators.
"Although the pace of talks is slow, I'm not pessimistic," he said.
The United States and several countries fear Iran is seeking to enrich uranium not to the low level needed to generate power as it claims but to weapons-grade uranium that could become the core for nuclear warheads. Tehran has rejected the accusation, saying its nuclear program is geared toward generating electricity.
Iran has allowed intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (search), the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, which has said there is no evidence to discredit the Iranian position.