TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's president said Wednesday he is willing to build a new relationship with the United States, adding that he is preparing new proposals aimed at breaking the impasse with the West over his country's nuclear program.
The speech by hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took an unusually conciliatory tone at a time when President Barack Obama's administration has signaled it wants to reach out to Iran and start a dialogue. It was the latest indication that both countries are searching for a formula to begin talks, though there have been no concrete breakthroughs yet.
"The Iranian nation is a generous nation. It may forget the past and start a new era, but any country speaking on the basis of selfishness will get the same response the Iranian nation gave to Mr. Bush," Ahmadinejad told thousands in the southeastern city of Kerman.
He spoke a day after the Obama administration said its immediate goal is to get Iran back to nuclear negotiations. Though the U.S. government declined to publicly discuss possible new strategies for dealing with Tehran, one senior official said they could involve allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium at its current level for some time.
The former Bush administration had long demanded Iran cease uranium enrichment. However, the U.S. had agreed two years ago along with Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany to allow Tehran to continue enrichment at current levels while they tried to set up talks on a permanent nuclear agreement.
Uranium enrichment can be used to produce fuel for both nuclear energy or nuclear weapons. The U.S. and some of its allies accuse Tehran of seeking to build nuclear weapons. But oil-rich Iran denies the charges, saying its nuclear program is geared toward generating electricity.
Ahmadinejad said "circumstances have changed" — an apparent reference to Obama's election and Iran's own progress in its nuclear program since talks with the world powers last year.
Iran says it now controls the entire cycle for producing nuclear fuel — from extracting uranium ore to enriching it and producing nuclear fuel. On Thursday, the country inaugurated a new nuclear facility producing uranium fuel pellets for a planned heavy-water nuclear reactor — the final step in the long, sophisticated nuclear fuel cycle.
The president said Iran welcomes dialogue with the world powers provided that it is based on justice and respect, suggesting the West should not try to force it to halt uranium enrichment.
"Today we are preparing a new package. Once it becomes ready, we will present that package (to you)," the president said. "It is a package that constitutes peace and justice throughout the globe and also respects other nations' rights." He did not give any indication as to what Iran would propose.
He was responding to the U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia whose representatives said last week that they will invite Iran for new talks over its nuclear program.
Ahmadinejad boasted that Iran's resistance and progress in nuclear technology has forced Washington to retreat from its position.
"You know well that today you are suffering from weaknesses. You have no choice. You can't make any progress through bullying policies. I advise you to change and correct your tone and respect other nations' rights," he said.