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. Iran says offers talks without nuclear freeze
TEHRAN, July 5 (AFP) Jul 05, 2008
Iran is ready to negotiate with world powers on its nuclear programme but without suspending its controversial uranium enrichment work, the government spokesman said on Saturday.

"Iran will not go back on its rights on the nuclear issue," Gholamhossein Elham said, in the first comments from Tehran since it handed over a response on Friday to an international bid to end the nuclear standoff.

"The will of the Iranian people is firm and will continue to follow the principles defined by the supreme guide (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei)," the spokesman said at a weekly news conference.

"Iran insists on negotiations (with world powers) while respecting its rights and avoiding any loss of international rights," he said, referring to Tehran's refusal to give up on nuclear enrichment.

Iran on Friday delivered its response to a package drawn up by six world powers offering Iran technology and negotiations if it suspends uranium enrichment, which the West fears could be used to make atomic weapons.

Elham said his country was prepared to hold talks "especially with the 5+1 Group" of the UN Security Council members plus Germany "on the common points in the Iranian package and the offer of the world powers."

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said his country had submitted a "constructive and creative" response with "a focus on common ground," but he did not elaborate on the contents.

Iran has also put forward its own more all-embracing offer aimed at solving world problems, including the nuclear issue, and has said there is common ground between the two packages.

There has been considerable speculation in recent days that Tehran was softening its tone on the nuclear standoff, although the international community has made negotiations conditional on enrichment suspension.

Diplomatic sources said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has not ruled out a period of pre-negotiations during which world powers would refrain from new sanctions provided Iran did not start operating any more centrifuges to enrich uranium.

An interview by Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy advisor to Khamenei, sparked hope in some quarters that Iran was on the verge of accepting the international proposal.

"Those who are agitating against our interests want us to reject the offer. As a consequence, it is in our interests to accept it," Velayati was quoted as saying in the hardline Jomhouri Eslami newspaper on Tuesday.

But the government spokesman, questioned on Velayati's statement, said Iran's position had not changed.

"People are free to express their personal point of view. But it is the government which has the responsibility and decides... in line with the principles defined by the supreme guide," Elham said.

Velayati himself has told state television that he was referring to negotiations rather than acceptance of the international offer.

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