Iranian president says Tehran will talk to U.S. if its behavior changes

Tuesday, November 14th 2006, 5:26 am
By: News On 6

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that Iran would talk to the United States if it ``corrects its behavior,'' but Washington insisted that Tehran needs to stop its nuclear activities that have raised fears it is trying to develop atomic weapons.

Ahmadinejad's comment was the highest-level Iranian statement in recent months that the government is willing to talk to Washington, which it has long demonized as ``the Great Satan.''

It also came a day after British Prime Minister Tony Blair advocated seeking Tehran's help in ending the violence in Iraq.

At a news conference, Ahmadinejad did not spell out any other conditions for U.S.-Iranian talks, but he accused the Bush administration of pursuing a foreign policy based on aggression, oppression, unilateralism and disrespect for other nations.

Ahmadinejad did not define the scope of any talks with the United States, nor did he say that Iraq or the nuclear dispute would be on the agenda of such discussions.

Iran has proposed talks with the United States about Iraq twice this year, first in March and then on Nov. 5. In the most recent proposal, Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said Tehran would consider talks with the U.S. over regional issues, including Iraq, if Washington requested.

At the news conference, Ahmadinejad said: ``We are after positive interaction with the whole world, excluding a country that we don't recognize'' _ a reference to Israel.

``We won't talk to the Zionist regime because it is a usurper and an illegitimate entity. But we will talk to the U.S. government under certain conditions. Should it correct its behavior, we will talk to them,'' the president said.

Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council, responded that ``I don't think this is about a U.S. attitude adjustment.''

``The collective attitude of the world is that Iran needs to play a constructive role in the region, not meddle in Iraq and stop its (nuclear) enrichment activities,'' Johndroe said.

Weeks after the first proposal of talks, Iran withdrew the offer. When Tehran renewed the offer this month, analysts said that Iran was concerned about the escalating turmoil in Iraq and might also be seeking to slow Washington's push for sanctions over its nuclear program.

Blair, President Bush's closest ally, said in a speech Monday that the West should press neighboring Iran to help stem bloodshed in Iraq and build stability across the Middle East. His office says he also wants to encourage dialogue with Syria.

One option under discussion at one point by a bipartisan Iraq Study Group headed by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton was for greater cooperation with Iran and Syria.

Bush's chief of staff, Josh Bolten, said the White House would consider opening talks with Syria and Iran if Baker and Hamilton recommended it.

The United States has no diplomatic ties with Iran.

On Tuesday, Bush said his line on Iran was: ``We are willing to come to the table with the European Union, as well as Russia and China to discuss a way forward'' in relations.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Bush said repeated the condition that he set weeks ago _ that for talks, Iran must agree to verifiably suspend its uranium enrichment activities.