TEHRAN, Iran – Iran said Sunday it would work to settle disputes over its nuclear program if its case went back to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency — a stance far from Western demands that it suspend uranium enrichment. The country's hardline president, meanwhile, again denounced Israel, calling its destruction near.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Tehran could agree to settle outstanding issues with the International Atomic Energy Agency, but only if the U.N. Security Council turned the country's nuclear file over to the U.N. watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and dropped preparations to debate further sanctions against Iran.
"If reviewing of Iran's nuclear issue returns to the agency, the Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to reach an agreement over settling a few remaining problems with the agency in the short term," Hosseini told reporters in his weekly news conference in Tehran.
The news comes days after an official in Spain said Iran had pledged to end years of stonewalling and provide answers about past suspicious nuclear activities to the IAEA.
If Iran were to follow through on that pledge, it could help the IAEA wrap up years of efforts to establish whether Iran's past nuclear strivings were exclusively peaceful in nature. Iran insists its program is peaceful.
But Hosseini's comments and the offer, which Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani made to the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, during talks in Madrid last week, fell short of Security Council's demands that Iran freeze uranium enrichment.
The Foreign Ministry spokesman said Larijani had not talk about enrichment with Solana during last week's talks. Iran has repeatedly refused to halt enrichment, which can produce both fuel for a reactor and — at higher levels — weapons-grade material.
"Such a thing was not discussed in the talks," he said. "No change has applied in Iran's stance as a consequence of the talks."
The Security Council first imposed sanctions on Iran in December and modestly increased them in March over Iran's refusal to suspend enrichment. The council is now preparing to debate on a third round of punitive measures.
"All should know that the possible third resolution on sanctions, and more restrictions on Iran will not dissuade us from our way," Hosseini said.
An IAEA report in May provided the potential trigger for another round of sanctions by saying Tehran continued to defy the Security Council ban on enrichment and instead was expanding its activities.
Iran's ultimate stated goal is running 54,000 centrifuges to churn out enriched uranium for what it says is power generation. But the U.S. and Israel accuse Iran of seeking to use the technology to develop nuclear weapons.
Also Sunday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out at Iran's regional enemy and U.S. ally, Israel, saying the world would witness the Jewish state's destruction soon.
"God willing, in the near future we will witness the destruction of the corrupt occupier regime," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the state-run news agency, IRNA.
The hardline leader — speaking during a ceremony marking the 18th anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who is known as the father of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution — said last summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon was proof that Israel's end was near.
The war was the first time the "hegemony of the occupier regime (Israel) collapsed, and the Lebanese nation pushed the button to begin counting the days until the destruction of the Zionist regime," IRNA quoted him as saying.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev responded Sunday by saying, "Reasonable people of all faiths must unite in condemning this sort of extremist, hateful language."
"Ahmadinejad offers only death and destruction. Today he is the most serious challenge to regional peace and security," he added.
Iran also had harsh words for U.S. President George W. Bush on Sunday, saying the American leader was intervening in the country's domestic affairs when he demanded the release of four Iranian-Americans detained on allegations of espionage.
Ahmadinejad's comments Sunday were not the first time the Iranian president has sharply denounced Israel.
In October 2005, he caused international outrage when he said in a speech that Israel's "Zionist regime should be wiped off the map." Ahmadinejad's supporters have argued that his words were mistranslated and should have been translated from Farsi to English as saying Israel would "vanish from the pages of time," implying it would vanish on its own rather be destroyed.
In an interview with U.S.-based ABC television earlier this year, Ahmadinejad, who also has called the Holocaust a "myth," compared Israel to the Soviet Union, saying, "What happened to the former Soviet Union? It disappeared, disappeared from the face of the Earth. Was it because of war? No. It was through the decision of the people."