Iran softens its position


Richard Moore

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Iran warms to nuclear talks

President makes shocking reversal, but still won't halt enrichment program

From Monday's Globe and Mail

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad surprised a huge crowd in Iran's capital yesterday
by skipping an expected announcement of a nuclear escalation and declaring 
instead that he intends to co-operate with international bodies seeking to 
prevent Tehran from developing atomic weapons.

In a nationally broadcast speech marking the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic 
revolution -- an address that had been billed by his advisers as an "important 
announcement" about Iran's nuclear ambitions -- Mr. Ahmadinejad sent 
conciliatory messages to the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy 
Agency, saying he will resume talks.

He did affirm that Iran intends to continue with the uranium enrichment it is 
conducting in a desert facility containing hundreds of centrifuges, insisting 
that "we shall continue with progress in our nuclear rights," contrary to UN 
demands that Tehran halt any such development.

But he did not follow through with an expected announcement that the number of 
centrifuges would be increased from 328 to more than 3,000, a quantity that 
could make a nuclear-weapons program more feasible.

"We are ready for talks but will not suspend our activities," the President told
a huge crowd in central Tehran, saying Iran will not end its participation in 
the UN's Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, as he had earlier threatened.

"We are willing to follow regulations. Despite the authority of the parliament 
for the government to reduce its co-operation . . . or even quit the 
non-proliferation treaty, the government, with the support of the parliament, 
has not used this. It is willing to defend the people's rights within the 
framework of the law," he said.

Iranian newspapers and opposition figures said Mr. Ahmadinejad's sudden 
about-face was necessary because leaders of the country's broadly pro-Western 
reformist movement, which governed Iran until 2005, were able to persuade Iran's
religious authorities that a more bellicose speech would have endangered the 
country's future and economy.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, elected President in 2005, spent the past week attempting to 
persuade the mullahs who hold an effective veto over Iran's democratic 
government that his intended speech would not be harmful. But reformist leaders,
including former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, reportedly persuaded the mullahs 
-- especially "supreme leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- that Mr. Ahmadinejad's 
sabre-rattling with the United States and Israel has put Iran in a precarious 

The UN Security Council has imposed sanctions against Iran because of its 
nuclear program, and has promised to impose extra measures against Iran's aid 
and exports unless its uranium-enrichment program is halted later this month.

Mr. Ahmadinejad has recently fallen out of favour with the ayatollahs who backed
his leadership, according to Iranian scholars and opposition figures, because 
the country's economy has fallen into disarray and it has become increasingly 
isolated from the wider world.

The past few weeks have seen widespread public dissent against the President, 
with opposition leaders suggesting that he be impeached.

As he was speaking, an even more dramatic reconciliation was being made by Ali 
Larijani, the secretary of Iran's National Security Council and a representative
of Ayatollah Khamenei, during talks in Munich.

"The political will of Iran is aimed at a negotiated settlement of the case. We 
don't want to aggravate the situation in the region," Mr. Larijani told 
delegates at a security conference.

He also offered a surprising statement of reconciliation with Israel. "We are 
posing no threat to Israel. We have no intention of aggression against any 
country," several wire services reported him saying. The remarks did not appear 
in Iranian accounts of his speech. They would represent a significant retreat 
from hostile remarks about Israel that have long been customary from Iranian 
leaders but have become much more pronounced under Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has 
repeatedly hinted that Israel should not exist and has played host to a Tehran 
conference of anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers.

In Baghdad yesterday, U.S. military officials accused Tehran of arming Shia 
militants in Iraq with sophisticated armour-piercing roadside bombs known as 
"explosively formed penetrators" that have killed more than 170 Americans.

Three senior U.S. military officials told reporters the "machining process" used
in the construction of the deadly bombs has been traced to Iran's Revolutionary 
Guards Quds Force, which is also accused of arming Hezbollah guerrillas in 
Lebanon. The officials said the Revolutionary Guards report directly to 
Ayatollah Khamenei.

With a report from Associated Press

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