Iran snubs Barack Obama's nuclear talks

Iran has dealt a blow to one of President Barack Obama's most ambitious diplomatic initiatives by dismissing demands to put its nuclear programme at the heart of direct talks with the United States. Less than 48 hours after Washington and its allies reluctantly accepted an offer of face-to-face negotiations from Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, insisted that the topic of greatest interest to the West would not be on the table.

"From the Iranian nation's viewpoint, the nuclear case is closed," he told Britain's ambassador to Tehran, Simon Gass. "Having peaceful nuclear technology is Iran's lawful and definite right and Iranians will not negotiate with anyone over their undeniable rights." n a rambling five-page document presented to western diplomats last week, Iran proposed negotiations on a wide array of economic and regional security issues but made no mention of its nuclear activities.

After responding with initial coolness, the United States defied expectations by taking up the offer to negotiate directly for the first time since Mr Obama came to power. The US president had promised during his election campaign to hold unconditional talks with Iran.

The decision initially appeared as though it could be vindicated after Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said he would not rule out discussing the nuclear issue, "should the conditions be right".

Despite opposition from American conservatives, the prospect of the first substantive negotiations between Washington and Tehran since the Iranian Revolution of 1979 suddenly seemed a realistic possibility.

But in his meeting with Mr Gass, who was presenting his credentials as Britain's ambassador, Mr Ahmadinejad scotched the hopes his foreign minister had raised.

He also indicated that the prospect of negotiations had made him no less combative by breaking with protocol to upbraid Britain.

"The Iranian people will never allow anybody to interfere in the country's internal affairs, and I hope the British government will repair its past mistakes," he told Mr Gass.

Iran will also come under the spotlight of human rights activists, some of whom have criticized Mr Obama for seeking direct talks with the regime, when a show trial for over 100 people accused of taking part in opposition protests after June's disputed election begins a new session.

Despite the intransigence it has encountered, the United States argues that it has no choice but to engage with Tehran.

Last month, international weapons inspectors concluded that Iran now had the capacity to produce one nuclear weapon if it were to further purify its existing stockpile of lowly enriched uranium, making the need for negotiations even more pressing.

Iran insists that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful in intent and maintains that it has as the right to develop the technology to generate electricity.


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