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. US dismisses Iranian president's nuclear offer
WASHINGTON, Feb 20 (AFP) Feb 21, 2007
The United States scoffed Tuesday at an offer by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to suspend uranium enrichment work if Western countries do the same.

A second US aircraft carrier, meanwhile, moved into the Sea of Oman, assembling US naval firepower in the region on a scale not seen since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Iran for its part held air-defense exercises.

The Iranian president said Tehran would refuse to meet a deadline Friday imposed by the UN Security Council to halt sensitive uranium enrichment efforts.

But he told a rally in Rasht that Iran would be willing to stop the enrichment program if other nuclear powers were willing to do the same.

"Do you believe that's a serious offer?" White House spokesman Tony Snow said when asked about Ahmadinejad's comments.

Snow declined to comment on whether Iran might face additional sanctions if it failed to meet the UN deadline and said Washington was waiting for a report from the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei.

ElBaradei is to report by Friday on whether Iran has stopped enrichment as required by the UN Security Council, and this finding will be reviewed at an IAEA board of governors meeting on March 6. The report could pave the way for tougher sanctions against Iran.

Snow said the international community was not opposed to Iran having a civilian nuclear program to generate electricity.

"We understand that Iran wants to have civilian nuclear power and we certainly have no problem with that," he said. "What we do have a problem with is an Iran that has the ability to develop nuclear weapons."

Snow and a Pentagon spokesman stressed US commitment to dealing with Iran through diplomacy, dismissing a BBC report that the US military has drawn up fall-back contingency plans for air strikes against Iran.

"The report is ludicrous," said Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman.

The United States has "significant concerns" about Iran's nuclear programs and its meddling in Iraq, Whitman said. "But we're addressing those issues on a diplomatic track."

"Why try to whoop up suspicion and skepticism about an administration right after we've demonstrated the success of diplomacy in North Korea using the same means and methods that we're trying to employ with the Iranians," said Snow.

At six-nation talks including the United States in Beijing last week, North Korea, which tested an atomic bomb for the first time in October, agreed to start disabling its nuclear facilities in exchange for badly-needed energy aid.

The BBC, citing diplomatic officials, said the US target list goes beyond Iranian nuclear facilities and includes air and naval bases, missile facilities and command and control centers.

The report said triggers for an attack are confirmation that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, or a high casualty attack on US forces in Iraq that is traced directly to Iran.

Meanwhile, the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis arrived with its battle group in the Sea of Oman Tuesday, joining the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower in the region.

The United States has not had two carrier battle groups in the Gulf region since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said the move is to show US commitment to the region, and was not in preparation for possible military action against Tehran.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards, meanwhile, engaged in a three-day war game called "Power Maneuver" to rehearse Iranian air defenses against a US air strike.

Separately, the United States welcomed a Russian atomic energy agency spokesman's comments that Russia may delay delivering nuclear fuel for Iran's Bushehr nuclear power station, which Moscow is building, due to problems in receiving payment.

"I think what that shows is Russia's own concerns about Iran's nuclear program and Russia's own concerns about what Iran actually is intending to do," said US State Department spokesman Tom Casey.

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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