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Kerry urges Iran to be serious about nuclear talks
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Feb 8, 2013


US must change before direct talks: Ahmadinejad
Tehran (AFP) Feb 10, 2013 - President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Sunday said the United States must change its attitude if it wants to hold direct nuclear talks with Iran, as he hit out at Washington for imposing sanctions on Tehran.

His comments, in a speech marking the 34th anniversary of the Islamic revolution that ousted the US-backed shah in 1979, came just days after Iran's supreme leader rejected US Vice President Joe Biden's call for direct talks.

They also come at a time when Tehran and six world powers are preparing to resume stalled talks over Iran's nuclear programme in the Kazakh city of Almaty on February 26.

"The change of tone is necessary but not sufficient," Ahmadinejad said at Tehran's landmark Azadi (Freedom) Square amid chants of "Death to America."

"Stop pointing weapons at the Iranian nation and I will myself negotiate with you," he said, addressing the United States directly.

"Talks should be with respect, fairness and not under pressure."

"You have done everything to prevent us from becoming nuclear and you have failed. The best solution is cooperation and understanding."

Last week Biden made a "serious offer" for direct talks in the framework of negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany) on Tehran's nuclear programme which world powers suspect is aimed at making atomic weapons.

Iran vehemently denies the allegation.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all national issues, rejected Biden's offer outright.

"I am not a diplomat but a revolutionary and I speak frankly," Khamenei was quoted as saying on his website on Thursday. "You (Americans) are pointing the gun at Iran and say either negotiate or we will shoot."

On Sunday, Ahmadinejad called on Iranians to remain "united behind" Khamenei, reiterating that "the Iranian nation will not give up an inch of its legitimate rights."

Tehran is currently under a series of international and Western sanctions aimed at curbing its nuclear ambitions, mainly the sensitive process of uranium enrichment.

The punitive economic measures have led to a severe economic crisis, choking Iran's banking system and limiting oil exports, its main foreign revenue earner.

A banner at Azadi Square on Sunday tried to give a different picture, declaring: "The crippling sanctions have only tickled us."

A recent survey by US polling firm Gallup said that Iran's nuclear programme is supported by a large majority of its population.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians, chanting anti-US and anti-Israel slogans, marked the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution on Sunday.

Waving Iranian flags and portraits of Islamic republic founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and of Khamenei, crowds gathered at Azadi Square in a government-sponsored rally which has become a regime cornerstone.

The authorities put on display a replica of a rocket which Iran says was used to carry a monkey into space in late January.

Sunday's nationwide rallies mark February 11, 1979 when the then Iranian army declared solidarity with the people, turning its back on shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Ten days beforehand, Khomeini had returned in triumph from exile in France to lead the revolutionaries to power.

New US Secretary of State John Kerry held out an olive branch to sanction-hit Iran on Friday, saying the world would respond if Tehran seriously addressed its nuclear program at upcoming talks.

"The choice is really ultimately up to Iran," Kerry told his first press conference since becoming America's top diplomat a week ago.

Tehran, which has been hit by crippling international sanctions, has agreed to meet with the six world powers working to rein in its suspect nuclear program for a new round of talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan on February 26.

In his first comments on Iran since taking the helm of the State Department, Kerry assured the Iranian leadership that "the window for diplomacy is still open" as they prepare for the next talks.

"The international community is ready to respond if Iran comes prepared to talk real substance and to address the concerns, which could not be more clear, about their nuclear program," the new secretary of state vowed.

"If they don't, then they will choose to leave themselves more isolated. That's the choice," Kerry said, speaking after his first bilateral talks with Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird.

In talks held last May in Baghdad, the so-called P5+1 -- the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany -- demanded Iran scale back its uranium enrichment, the part of its program that causes the most concern because it could provide the key ingredient for a nuclear bomb.

But because the P5+1 stopped short of offering relief from the sanctions, Iran walked away at the third round of talks in Moscow.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has said the P5+1 will put forward an "updated and credible" offer to Iranian leaders at the Almaty talks.

Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, but many in the international community suspect that Tehran's real aim is to develop an atomic bomb.

"We believe that beyond Iran's support, material support for terrorism, beyond their abysmal and deteriorating human rights record, the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran is the biggest threat to international peace and security," said Baird, the Canadian foreign minister.

"I share the view that a diplomatic solution is possible," he added, saying Canada wanted Iran to "change course and rejoin the international community."

Tehran has been calling for scaling back biting sanctions that are hurting the Iranian economy.

But instead, the United States tightened sanctions Wednesday on Iran to further choke off its oil income and limit Tehran's ability to freely use the money it gets from oil exports.

The global sanctions have also targeted Iran's access to the world banking system, slowing its economy, accelerating inflation and boosting the ranks of the jobless.

And they have led to the collapse of the national currency, which lost more than two thirds of its value in a 20-day span starting in late September.

Tehran is also being pressured by the UN's atomic watchdog agency to allow broader access to its nuclear facilities in a bid to resolve outstanding issues over the Islamic republic's past atomic activities.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei angrily accused Washington this week of trying to negotiate with Tehran at gunpoint, as he rejected an offer of direct US-Iran talks.

"I am not a diplomat but a revolutionary and I speak frankly," Khamenei told air force commanders in remarks published on his website. "You (Americans) are pointing the gun at Iran and say either negotiate or we will shoot."

A Gallup poll found that most Iranians are feeling the pain of sanctions but still support a civilian nuclear program.

The US polling firm, which spoke to 1,000 Iranians by telephone over December and January, found that 83 percent said international economic sanctions had affected their livelihoods, with nearly half blaming the United States.

Washington broke off relations with Iran in 1980 in the aftermath of the storming of the US embassy in Tehran, when 52 Americans were taken hostage by Islamist students.

Since then, the United States has been vilified by the Islamic republic as the "Great Satan."

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