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Iran Cleric Tells Washington To Stop Language Of Threats

Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani (file photo)
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- An influential Iranian cleric has urged the United States to stop threatening Iran with more sanctions if it wanted to hold talks with the Islamic state over its disputed nuclear work.

"It is better if they do not repeat the threats so the atmosphere which is becoming ready in Iran more or less [for talks] is not destroyed," former President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani told worshippers at Friday Prayers.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on April 22 threatened Iran with crippling sanctions if it did not suspend its disputed nuclear program.

Iran's President Mahmud Ahmadinejad reiterated this week that Tehran had no intention of halting its nuclear work, which the West fears is a cover to build bombs.

Rafsanjani, also a top adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Tehran was ready to hold negotiations with Washington if the United States chose the "right path and proved its goodwill."

U.S. President Barack Obama has said he would break from his predecessor by pursuing direct talks with Tehran, but has also warned Iran to expect more pressure if it did not meet the UN Security Council demand to halt uranium enrichment.

In a statement this week, Iran said it believed discussions could resolve a row between the Islamic state and the West but repeated Tehran would press ahead with its work to develop nuclear energy.

The statement was a response to an invitation this month by six world powers to discuss the country's nuclear issue.

Clinton has said engaging Iran over its nuclear work would increase U.S. leverage among other major powers to impose tougher sanctions if talks failed.

Engaging Iran has marked a major shift in Washington's policy toward Tehran under Obama, whose predecessor, George W. Bush, shunned direct talks as long as Iran continued with its uranium-enrichment work.

"What is the difference between such talk [by Clinton] and what Mr. Bush used to say?," Rafsanjani said in the sermon at Tehran University broadcast live on state radio.

"This language is not proper for the face they want to show for change," he added.