TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday Iran was ready to discuss "mutual concerns" over his country's nuclear program, but he refused to first suspend uranium enrichment.
His comments came a day after world powers backed off a demand that Iran commit to a prolonged moratorium on uranium enrichment, asking only for a suspension during talks on its nuclear program. Ahmadinejad did not say whether he accepted the proposal, part of a package of incentives in exchange for Iran suspending enrichment.
Last week, the United States agreed last week to join France, Britain and Germany in talks with Iran. If the talks occur, it would be the first major public negotiations between Washington and Tehran in more than 25 years.
However, Ahmadinejad insisted that Iran would never give up its right under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to produce nuclear fuel.
"On behalf of the Iranian nation, I'm announcing that the Iranian nation will never hold negotiations about its definite rights with anybody, but we are for talks about mutual concerns to resolve misunderstandings in the international arena," Ahmadinejad told thousands of people in Qazvin, west of the capital Tehran.
"Negotiations should be held in a fair atmosphere and on the basis of equality," he said. "If they think they can threaten and hold a stick over Iran's head and offer negotiations at the same time, they should know the Iranian nation will definitely reject such an atmosphere."
Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani has said the incentives package included both "positive steps" and "ambiguities that need to be cleared up." Tehran has said it will announce its position after carefully studying the package.
"International monopolists have been defeated in the face of your resistance and solidarity, and have been forced to acknowledge your dignity and greatness," Ahmadinejad told the crowd, referring to the U.S. and its allies.
The United States and other Western nations suspect Iran's nuclear program is intended to produce weapons. Iran insists it is intended only to produce power, arguing it needs enrichment technology to produce fuel for atomic reactors that would generate electricity.