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. Iran should take West's "extended hand": Austrian minister
VIENNA, Sept 26 (AFP) Sep 26, 2008
Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik called Friday on Iran to accept the West's outstretched hand and resume dialogue over its disputed nuclear programme.

"The international community is prepared for dialogue, but Iran must take the hand that is being extended," Plassnik said in a statement after meeting with her Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki on the sidelines of a United Nations conference in New York.

"The international community's comprehensive offer to Iran of a double time-out on uranium enrichment and existing UN sanctions is still on the table," she said.

"That demonstrates our interest in working constructively together with Iran."

The West fears Iran intends to build a nuclear bomb but Tehran insists its nuclear energy program is entirely peaceful and aimed at generating electricity.

"If it wants to, Iran can play a significant role in ensuring the stability of the entire region," Plassnik said.

But she strongly criticised a defiant speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, in which he lashed out at the US and Israel while insisting that Tehran would resist Western "bullying."

Ahmadinejad's remarks "went entirely in the wrong direction," Plassnik said.

"His comments were absolutely unacceptable; readiness for dialogue begins with choosing one's words."

A planned ministerial meeting of six major powers on Iran's nuclear programme Thursday was cancelled at the last minute due to tensions between Russia and the United States over the crisis in Georgia, although further talks were planned at a yet-undetermined date.

The six powers, known as P5-plus-one -- the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Britain, China, France, Russia and the US, plus Germany -- had been set to consider possible new sanctions against Tehran.

The UN has already slapped three sets of sanctions on Iran. But Tehran refuses to suspend uranium enrichment, a process which can be used to make the fissile material for a nuclear bomb.

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