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Iranian President Prepared To Negotiate

Iranian President Prepared To Negotiate On Nuclear Issue, Annan Says

Iran's President is prepared to negotiate on the issue of his country's nuclear ambitions but said he will not suspend uranium enrichment activities, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said today in Tehran following a meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other top officials.

The UN Security Council, which has threatened sanctions if Iran does not suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities and take steps to assure the world that it is not developing nuclear arms, is currently considering a new report on the matter from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"On the nuclear issue, the President reaffirmed to me Iran's preparedness and determination to negotiate and find a solution to the crises," Mr. Annan told reporters in the capital today. "He indicated that they do not accept suspension before negotiations. But he assured me that they are prepared to negotiate."

In addition to meeting with President Ahmadinejad, the Secretary-General has held talks this weekend with Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council Ali Larijani, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani and Kamal Kharazzi, the Chairman of the Foreign Relations Strategic Committee.

Looking forward to a planned meeting between Mr. Larijani and Javier Solana, the High Representative of the European Union for Common Foreign and Security Policy, the Secretary-General said, "I hope at that point they will find a way to move forward and begin serious work on this dossier."

The Secretary-General is currently on an intensive diplomatic tour of the region aimed at bolstering support for the Security Council resolution that ended the hostilities in Lebanon last month while and addressing other regional hotspots. He has held meetings in Lebanon, Israel, Syria and Qatar.

He told reporters that President Ahmadinejad voiced backing for the resolution, which mandated a cessation of hostilities.

"He reaffirmed his country's support for the implementation of resolution 1701 and agrees with me that we should do everything to strengthen the territorial integrity of Lebanon, the independence of Lebanon, and work together for the reconstruction of Lebanon."

President Ahmadinejad also "indicated that Tehran will work with us in a collective effort to reconstruct Lebanon," Mr. Annan said. "Iran is an important regional player and has a key role to play, and the President did assure me that it would play that role."

Responding to press questions, he emphasized that both Israel and Lebanon accepted the resolution, and troops are deploying quickly into southern Lebanon. "I expect around the middle of the month that we would have, if all goes well, about 5,000 international troops there in addition to the 16,000 Lebanese troops ready to deploy to the south," he said.

"That will constitute a credible force that will take over the territory in the south of Lebanon in support of the Lebanese Government so that the Israel troops can withdraw completely."

The Secretary-General also voiced concern about the Holocaust cartoon exhibit. He recalled his own appeals for sensitivity during the furor over the Danish cartoons. "I did state that, while there may be freedom of expression and the right to freedom of expression, that right is not a license and that it has to be exercised with responsibility, with sensitivity, and judgment. And I think that the tragedy of the Holocaust is a sad and undeniable historical fact so we should really handle that and accept that fact, and teach children what happened in World War II, and ensure that it is never repeated."

Mr. Annan further cautioned that, "Words can soothe and words can harm. And we should be careful not to say anything that can be misused as an excuse for incitement to hatred or violence."


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