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    Iran Signals It is Ready for Nuclear Talks

    Top Iranian officials say the country is ready to return to the negotiating table to talk about nuclear issues, but without any conditions. The International Atomic Energy Agency last week warned Iran is continuing to enrich uranium, in violation of a U.N. Security Council demand that it stop.

    In a visit to Tehran, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said he and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad discussed international concerns over Iran's nuclear program.

    "On the nuclear issue, the president re-affirmed to me Iran's preparedness and willingness to negotiate, and find a solution to the crisis," said Kofi Annan.

    Iran says it is enriching uranium as fuel to provide energy for the country. International critics worry that Iran can use the same nuclear material in weapons.

    The Iranian president's apparent push for talks was echoed by Iran's IAEA representative, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, who spoke on CNN's Late Edition.

    "The solution to the crisis is to come back to the negotiating table, without any conditions, as our president have already said," said Ali Asghar Soltanieh. "And we have many times re-iterated, we are ready to come to negotiating table and remove any ambiguities about our nuclear activities."

    A U.N. Security Council order had set August 31 as a deadline for Iran to stop all uranium enrichment. Soltanieh said Tehran does not recognize the legality of the order, and believes the U.N. nuclear agency and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty have no authority to order countries to suspend enrichment activities.

    "There is no provision in the IAEA statute, also NPT, for requesting a country to stop, or suspend enrichment activities," he said. "There is no limitation or restriction. The only thing is, the IAEA has to verify and control the activities to make sure there is no diversion [to nuclear use]."

    He added that, 30 years ago, Iran invested money in a French company engaged in nuclear enrichment, but has not been able to access any of the material.

    "Therefore, Iran had no other choice than to depend on its own for its production of nuclear fuel," said Ali Asghar Soltanieh.

    In a speech Thursday, President Bush said Iran should be punished for its non-compliance.

    "It is time for Iran to make a choice," said President Bush. "We have made our choice. We will continue to work closely with our allies to find a diplomatic solution, but there must be consequences for Iran's defiance, and we must not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon."

    The United States has been pushing in the U.N. Security Council for sanctions against Iran. But any possible penalties will not be discussed until after a meeting this week between the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, and Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani.

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