Video: Iran’s lead negotiator: We’re not interested in nukes

  1. Closed captioning of: Iran’s lead negotiator: We’re not interested in nukes

    >>> in iraq today two american soldiers were killed and a third wounded when an iraqi soldier opened fire on them during training in the northern city of mosul. separately the military said another u.s. soldier was killed while conducting operations in central iraq .

    >>> iran and its disputed nuclear program will be the center of a new round of talks next week between that country and six world powers including the united states . those talks will be held in istanbul, turkey.

    >>> iran was playing its own version of nuclear show and tell today. nbc's richard engel is in tehran tonight.

    >> reporter: in an attempt to show openness ahead of nuclear talks in istanbul, iran is giving tours of two of its controversial nuclear sites to several foreign ambassadors. the united states has dismissed these tours as a public relations stunt. iran also gave nbc news a rare interview with its chief nuclear negotiator. i med saeed jalili , chief nuclear negotiator, in his office in iran . we set for an hour. no questions were off limits. his main message, iran wants to open a new page with the american people .

    >> translator: we believe it is necessary that the people of the united states should look at the different issues from different angles.

    >> jalili did not rule out direct talks with the united states but insists economic sanctions are not driving iran to negotiations.

    >> translator: iran never withdraw from negotiations. truth of the matter is we have always invited them to return to the talks.

    >> reporter: in some of the clearest statements yet by a senior iranian official he denied they plan to build a nuclear weapon . can you say clearly iran is not and will not build a nuclear weapon .

    >> translator: yes, we have bluntly and factually announced we consider nuclear weapons illegitimate and could not work.

    >> reporter: iran's nuclear program has also been attacked by covert actions. this is the first time in detail iran has discussed the sabotage of its computers. you believe that it was the united states that was responsible for the cyber attack ?

    >> translator: i have witnessed some documents and proof that they show satisfaction in that.

    >> reporter: there were statements jalili would not answer directly. he wouldn't say how much uranium it plans to enrich. nonetheless this is an iranian charm offensive ahead of talks in turkey next week. this is unusual, lester. iran is certainly trying to reach out. but what is unclear if this is just posturing or if iran is now seriously ready to engage in negotiations on its nuclear program . lester.

By
updated 1/15/2011 8:56:13 PM ET 2011-01-16T01:56:13

Several international envoys — but crucially none from the world powers — got a look inside an Iranian nuclear site Saturday as part of a tour the Islamic Republic hopes will build support before a new round of talks on its disputed atomic activities.

Iran is trying to sell the tour as a gesture of transparency ahead of the Jan. 20-22 talks in Istanbul, Turkey. In a blow to the effort, however, major powers Russia, China and the European Union refused the Iranian invitation. The EU said it should be up to inspectors from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency to verify whether Iran's program is entirely peaceful.

Iran's offer pointedly did not include the United States, one of its biggest critics internationally, nor three other Western nations that have been critical of the Iranian program — Britain, France and Germany — and many saw the tour as an attempt to divide the nations conducting the nuclear talks.

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Ambassadors to the U.N. atomic energy agency from Egypt, Cuba, Syria, Algeria, Venezuela, Oman and the Arab League arrived in Tehran early Saturday and visited the unfinished heavy water reactor near Arak in central Iran, state TV reported.

The group is expected to tour Iran's main uranium enrichment facility near Natanz on Sunday.

The U.S. and some of its allies accuse Iran of using its civil nuclear program as a cover to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Tehran denies the accusation, saying its nuclear work is merely geared towards producing nuclear energy and isotopes to treat medical patients.

To support that assertion, Iran on Saturday unveiled domestically-produced deuterated compounds, which state TV said can be used for medical research and making optic fiber.

With crucial talks between Iran and six world powers in Istanbul just days away, the timing of the nuclear tour and the choice of nations invited appeared to be an attempt to weaken unity among Iran's interlocutors.

Image: The Arak, Iran, heavy water production facility
STR  /  AP
The exterior of the Arak heavy water production facility in Arak, Iran, southwest of Tehran, is seen on in this Oct. 27, 2004 photo. Seven international envoys got a look inside two key Iranian nuclear sites Saturday.

In particular, there have been differences among them on the issue of imposing economic and other penalties on Iran as a way to pressure it to make concessions.

Moscow and Beijing, for example, have generally opposed attempts by the other four — the United States, Britain, France and Germany — to sharpen U.N. sanctions on Iran over its refusal to stop activities that could be potentially used to make nuclear weapons.

Iran's envoy to the Vienna-based U.N. agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said on state TV that while Russia and China "welcomed warmly this positive initiative" the two nations could not attend because of time conflicts.

Soltanieh said the EU was wrong to connect the tour with the U.N. agency's inspections.

"This is the visit of IAEA ambassadors. It has nothing to do with IAEA inspections," Soltanieh said.

Iran's nuclear chief and acting foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi said the invitations were intended as a trust-building measure, contending that — outside of his nation — no other country has put its nuclear facilities on display for others.

"This visit ... is evidence of the fact that Iran has nothing to hide," Salehi said.

He also repeated denials that sanctions have hurt the Iranian economy. However, the tour may be a sign that Tehran is looking to ease the burden of the U.N. penalties.

Iran's decision to return to talks could reflect some readiness to compromise on Security Council demands. Still, hopes are modest. The Istanbul meeting follows on a first round last month in Geneva that ended with little progress other than a decision to meet again.

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Soltanieh sought to play up the weekend visit, saying the ambassadors taking part represented 120 countries from the Non-Aligned Movement and the Group of 77 developing nations.

"These ambassadors and envoys ... have welcomed the Iranian initiative and see it as a sign of transparency in Iran's nuclear activities," the official IRNA news agency quoted Soltanieh as saying Saturday.

He said it was a replay of a 2007 visit to Iran's uranium conversion facility in Isfahan, central Iran, when several ambassadors visited the facility.

Soltanieh said the EU has "missed a historic opportunity" for cooperation.

"Out of its goodwill, the Islamic Republic of Iran invited several other countries, including the EU, to join the representatives of a majority of the world countries but they didn't use this historic opportunity for solidarity and cooperation and observe Iran's peaceful nuclear activities," IRNA quoted him as saying.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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