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Ahmadinejad backs new nuclear talks with West

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gestures, before addressing a mass rally in the southern village of Qana, Lebanon, on Oct. 14. Hezbollah supporters rallied crowds in southern Lebanon on Thursday ahead of a visit that will take Iran's president within two miles of the Israeli border, a trip that the U.S. and Israel have called intentionally provocative. Hassan Ammar / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Iran's president on Sunday endorsed the resumption of talks with the international community about his country's nuclear program, the latest in Tehran's recently intensified push to get those negotiations going again.

The talks foundered a year ago and months later, a fourth round of U.N. sanctions was imposed on Iran over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment — a program the West is concerned masks Iranian ambitions for making nuclear weapons.

Iran denies the charge and says its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes. It insists it wants to enrich uranium to make fuel for a planned reactor network and denies accusations that it will use the program to make fissile warhead material.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran is ready to resume the talks and added that the West had made the first step.

"They have come and said, 'We will negotiate,'" Ahmadinejad told a crowd of supporters in the northwestern city of Ardebil, about 370 miles (600 kilometers) northwest of Tehran. "We say, 'All right, we will negotiate with you.'"

He gave no timeframe for the talks.

EU's foreign affairs and security chief, Catherine Ashton, suggested last Thursday the talks be held in Vienna "over three days in mid-November," with the participation of the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany.

Ashton issued the statement soon after meeting U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Brussels.

At the rally in Ardebil, Ahmadinejad warned the West the talks with Iran would not make progress unless the West clarifies its stance over Israel's alleged nuclear arsenal — an apparent attempt to deflect attention from Iran's nuclear program.

If this doesn't happen, the West will show it "supports the Zionist regime's atomic bomb and is not seeking to have a friendship (with Iran) through the talks," Ahmadinejad added.

Israel is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal but has never confirmed or denied it. As Iran's archenemy, the Jewish state fears it will be targeted by Iran and Ahmadinejad has repeatedly made references to Israel's destruction.

"If you choose this path, your achievement in the talks will be the same as before," Ahmadinejad said, addressing the international community. "You will not gain an iota more."