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Iran Excludes Talks On Its Nuclear 'Rights'


Iran President Mahmud Ahmadinejad
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran's president has snubbed U.S. President Barack Obama's end-September deadline to talk to world powers on its disputed nuclear program, saying in his opinion discussion on the issue is "finished."

Mahmud Ahmadinejad said the Islamic Republic was ready for dialogue on "challenges" facing the world but made clear Tehran would not back down in a dispute over atomic activities which the West fears are aimed at making bombs.

"From our view point [discussion of] our nuclear issue is finished...we will never negotiate on the Iranian nation's obvious rights," he told his first news conference since he was sworn into office following a disputed reelection in June.

In Vienna, UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohammed el-Baradei said his agency was stuck in "stalemate" with Iran over issues that had stirred international mistrust in its nuclear designs.

El-Baradei's renewed highlighting of the deadlock may be timely for Western powers striving to persuade Russia and China of the need for much harsher sanctions against Iran that could target its gasoline imports.

The West suspects Iran is pursuing the means to produce atomic bombs behind the facade of a civilian nuclear program. Iran says its purpose is only to make electricity.

Obama has given Tehran until later this month to take up a six powers' offer of talks on trade benefits if it stops uranium enrichment, or face harsher sanctions.

But Ahmadinejad said "cooperation based on respect and justice is contradictory to setting a deadline."

He invited officials from the six powers -- the United States, Britain, China, Russia, France, and Germany -- to take a look at Iran's upcoming package of proposals addressing the "main challenges facing humanity."

Iran was ready to negotiate and cooperate on making "peaceful use of clean nuclear energy" available for all countries and in preventing the spread of nuclear arms, he said.

The semiofficial ISNA news agency said Iran was likely to unveil the package by the end of this week.

"We have always been and always will be ready for negotiations and for hearing opinions," Ahmadinejad said.

Obama Debate?

On September 3, the six powers pressed Iran to meet them for talks on the nuclear program before a United Nations General Assembly meeting on September 23-25, which will be attended by both the Iranian and U.S. presidents.

The United Nations Security Council has already imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran since 2006, targeting Iranian companies and individuals linked to the nuclear program.

Washington and its allies may go after Iran's gasoline imports in a possible fourth round of sanctions. That could seriously hurt Iran, which, although it is the world's number five oil exporter, imports up to 40 percent of its gasoline.

In a move that could help reduce its vulnerability, Iranian media reported that Venezuela had pledged to export 20,000 barrels of gasoline per day to Iran, in a deal struck during a visit by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez on September 6.

Iran has often said nuclear arms have no place in its defense doctrine and called on the United States and other countries with such weapons to dismantle them.

Ahmadinejad said he was ready to hold a public debate with Obama, who offered a new U.S. approach to Iran when he took office in January if Tehran would "unclench its fist."

"We believe this is the best way for solving global issues," Ahmadinejad said. "Any issue can be negotiated but in front of the media. The time for secret...agreements is over."

Ahmadinejad has faced political turmoil since the June election, which was followed by huge opposition protests, plunged Iran into its deepest internal crisis since its 1979 Islamic revolution and exposed establishment rifts.

Parliament's approval of most of Ahmadinejad's government ministers last week has helped to shore up his position.

Ahmadinejad once again rejected opposition charges of vote fraud to secure his reelection. "They said there was vote rigging without any proof. I believe this is the worst kind of dictatorship," he said.

He added "leaders of unrest should be held accountable."

Iran last month began trials of more than 100 senior reformers, activists, and others accused of inciting the protests.