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Tehran Ready for 'Constructive' Talks, Says Nuclear Negotiator

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Said Jalili, has signaled that Tehran is "ready for constructive dialogue" over its nuclear program, in an apparent response to the invitation by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana for talks with the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

Jalili noted that President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad's promise, last week, to present a new package of proposals aimed at resolving the ongoing nuclear standoff was a signal of its willingness to talk.

He went on to say, however, that Iran would not halt its nuclear program, which the United States and other Western nations suspect is being used as a cover to build atomic weaponry.

Jalili reiterated complaints by Mr. Ahmedinejad that the world powers have "tried to use the language of force and threat, instead of mutual respect," going on to conclude that the technique "has been proved ineffective."

International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed al-Baradei noted, Monday, that the carrot and stick approach of the Bush Administration had not worked, adding that he was "pleased by the reversal in policy by the United States."

The group of five permanent Security Council nations, plus Germany, have recognized Iran's right to a civilian nuclear program, but say Tehran also has the "responsibility of restoring confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear activities."

Some Iran experts argue that Mr. Ahmedinejad is planning to call for a "nuclear free zone in the Middle East," as part of his package of proposals for talks with the group of five, plus one.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Muttaqi is expected in Brussels, Thursday, for an international conference on Somalia hosted by the European Union. It is not clear if Iran's nuclear program will be discussed, alongside the conference, but EU sources have not ruled it out.

Amr Hamzawi, Beirut-based Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says that everything indicates that both Iran and the United States have "abandoned their old positions" and are getting ready for constructive talks:

"The two parties are ready for constructive negotiations and the Iranians have indicated in many different ways, and in a very significant way, in fact, by Ahmedinejad himself in recent days. The Iranians have a substantial interest in pushing forward the negotiations with the five members, plus one," he said. " The Iranians are not facing an easy situation in the region. There are great regional fears and doubts among the Arabs as far as the Iranian program is concerned and I guess they are trying to break the current cycle of escalation against them and boycott measures by different Arab as well as western countrie," Hamzawi added.

President Ahmedinejad welcomed President Barack Obama's pledge to open a dialogue with Tehran, during a speech Wednesday in the town of Varamin, but criticized him for not taking "practical steps…such as going to the U.N. conference on racism in Geneva."

President Obama indicated, Tuesday, that he would not be deterred from conducting what he called "tough" direct diplomacy with Iran, despite Mr. Ahmedinejad's controversial rhetoric against Israel at the Geneva conference.