The president of Iran says he is willing to hold talks with the West over his controversial nuclear program. But he says he will only stop enriching uranium if the West stops too. VOA Correspondent Challiss McDonough has more from our Middle East bureau in Cairo.

The Iranian president said he is open to negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, but he said they must take place under just conditions. He rejected the West's preconditions for holding talks.

President Ahmadinejad said he is willing to shut down Iran's uranium-enrichment program, if the Western nations that have been pressuring him to do so shut theirs down as well.

He said, "You demand that we close our nuclear fuel production plant before talks begin. This is no problem. But justice requires that you must shut down your nuclear fuel cycle too."

The remarks were made in northern Iran and broadcast on national television a day before the latest U.N. Security Council deadline is to expire for Iran to halt uranium enrichment. The Security Council imposed limited sanctions on Iran in late December, and gave the country 60 days to comply before facing additional measures.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is scheduled to report to the Security Council on Friday about Iran's compliance with the U.N. demands.

Mr. Ahmadinejad warned his Western critics that further attempts to pressure Iran will only unite the country.

He said, "The entire Iranian nation is steadfastly resisting, and will defend its nuclear rights until the end."

Diplomatic efforts were intensifying as the U.N. deadline drew near. Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, was in Vienna for talks with IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

The United States and several of its European allies believe Iran is secretly trying to build a nuclear weapon. Tehran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful and designed only to produce nuclear energy.

Washington says it wants to resolve the crisis through diplomacy, but it has not ruled out the use of military force.