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Iran Says Ready For Talks, Won't Halt Nuclear Work

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad tours a fuel-manufacturing plant during its inauguration ceremony in Isfahan on April 9.
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran welcomes "constructive" talks with world powers on its nuclear program but will press ahead with work to develop atomic energy, an official statement has said.

The statement was Tehran's response to an invitation by six world powers to discuss the nuclear dispute, according to state television.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran...welcomes constructive and fair talks based on mutual respect and believes current problems could be resolved through talks," the statement said.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran will continue its nuclear activities in an active interaction with the [United Nations] International Atomic Energy Agency in the framework of the NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty] like other agency members," it said.

Last week, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said Iran had prepared proposals to end the dispute, without giving details.

It was unclear whether Iran's counteroffer would be essentially different from previous ill-fated exchanges.

"We don't expect this package to be much different...I think it will not be very helpful," said one Western diplomat.

The United States and its Western allies suspect Iran is aiming to develop nuclear bombs under the cover of a civilian program and want it to halt sensitive uranium enrichment. Iran rejects the allegation and says it will not bow to pressure.

The United States, Russia, China, France, Germany, and Britain said on April 8 they would ask EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana to invite Iran to a meeting to find "a diplomatic solution to this critical issue", referring to the nuclear row.

It marked a significant shift in U.S. policy under President Barack Obama, whose predecessor George W. Bush shunned direct talks with Iran as long as it continued with enrichment activity.

Offers And Counteroffers

While saying it would welcome talks, Iran also criticized the powers' statement issued after a meeting in London earlier this month, saying parts of it were contradictory and insulting by referring to a dual-track strategy of carrots and sticks.

Iran has repeatedly dismissed demands that it stop enriching uranium, which can have both civilian and military uses. Tehran says its activities are aimed at producing electricity so that it can export more of its natural gas and oil.

The six world powers originally offered Iran economic and political incentives in 2006 to suspend enrichment. Iran's response hinted at some flexibility but ruled out suspension as a precondition for talks as stipulated by the powers.

Last June the six improved the offer while retaining the precondition. In reply, Iran said it wanted to negotiate a broader peace and security deal and rejected any "condescending" formula to shelve its nuclear program.

Western officials at the time felt Iran was trying to buy time to expand and make irreversible its nuclear program.

The Obama administration has said it is prepared to meet Iran without preconditions, but it has also made clear that suspension of enrichment remains the goal.

The Western diplomat said he believed the meeting would take place with "opinions to be exchanged...but we will have to see how much further we can progress."