TEHRAN, Iran – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday called a U.S. intelligence report concluding Iran stopped developing its atomic weapons program four years ago a "step forward" in comments that marked a much softer tone than his usually harsh anti-Western rhetoric.
The hard-line leader told reporters that an "entirely different" situation between the two countries could be created if more steps like the intelligence report followed.
"We consider this measure by the U.S. government a positive step. It is a step forward," Ahmadinejad told a press conference.
"If one or two other steps are taken, the issues we have in front of us will be entirely different and will lose their complexity, and the way will be open for the resolution of basic issues in the region and in dealings between the two sides," Ahmadinejad said.
Iran has said its nuclear program is peaceful, but until last week, the United States and Western allies had countered that Iran was hiding plans for a bomb.
The latest U.S. intelligence assessment on Iran, however, says Tehran once had a weapons program but shelved it in 2003. The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate was in stark contrast to a 2005 estimate that said Tehran was continuing its weapons development.
On Tuesday, diplomats from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany are to discuss a draft plan for new United Nations sanctions against Iran. If passed by the Security Council, the plan would slap a third round of sanctions on Iran for defying international demands that it halt its enrichment of uranium.
When asked about what other steps Washington needs to take, Ahmadinejad suggested that one would be for the U.S. to "make a serious change in position in the region."
"Regional nations have rights and want to fully use their rights. Respecting these rights is a serious change in strategy. This is the next step. If it is done, then you will see that ... it is not that a 60-year issue can't be resolved," he said referring to an Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He repeated a previous invitation to Bush for a public media debate and said Iran was studying "many requests" from U.S. officials for dialogue and travel to Iran. He did not elaborate.
"Many requests reach us from American officials for dialogue and travel to Iran. We are investigating," Ahmadinejad said.