Iranian Leader Signals a Will to Negotiate

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Iran is willing to negotiate with major powers regarding its nuclear program, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says. The leader's comments came at a press conference at the United Nations, where he had defended his country's nuclear ambitions two days earlier.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Today the president of Iran again insisted that his country's nuclear program is peaceful and he said he's prepared to negotiate a suspension of sensitive nuclear activities. That's if he's treated fairly in his talks with major powers. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. The gathering of world leaders has provided him with a platform to make his case in his country's standoff with the West.

NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has a habit of responding to questions about his policies by raising his own complaints about the U.S. On the nuclear issue he tried to paint American's nuclear arsenal as the real threat in the world. He said he's at a loss over how to prove that his country's nuclear program is peaceful.

President MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD (Iran): (Through Translator) We are not seeking the nuclear bomb. I mean, that's quite clear.

KELEMEN: The Bush administration says Iran can't be trusted with nuclear technology. Ahmadinejad calls this an excuse to prevent Iran's development. But he did leave open the door for suspending controversial uranium enrichment activities. He said under just and fair conditions Iran will negotiate about it. As for the package of incentives that the U.S., Europe, Russia and China offered Tehran, the Iranian president said he wants guarantees that those countries will make good on any future deals.

President AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) We are negotiating within that framework. Hopefully others will not disrupt the work.

KELEMEN: At his news conference, President Ahmadinejad seemed to be working hard to try to dispel his image here as America's greatest threat. When he was asked whether he really thinks that Israel should be wiped off the map, he said he's only against aggression and occupation, meaning Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands.

President AHMADINEJAD: (Through Translator) Even if I as a person would keep my silence, do you think that such injustice will go unnoticed? Such aggression will go unnoticed?

KELEMEN: Ahmadinejad denounced what he referred to as a power seeking Zionist lobby, but he said he's not anti-Jewish.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, New York.

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