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Iran open to talks, not threats, leader says

Published May 12, 2006

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Iran's president said Thursday he was ready to hold talks over his country's nuclear program, but he warned that efforts to force Tehran to the negotiating table with threats could backfire.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also had more harsh words for Israel and told more than 1,000 cheering Muslim students in the Indonesian capital that the West was being hypocritical in pressing Iran to stop its uranium enrichment program.

"The big powers ... have a lot of nuclear weapons in their warehouse," Ahmadinejad said during a visit to the world's largest Muslim majority nation amid a deepening international standoff over Tehran's nuclear program and suspicions it is seeking atomic weapons.

"We want to use technology for peace and the welfare of the Muslim people around the world," he told students who gathered at Islamic University on Jakarta's southern outskirts. "But they want to use it to invade other countries. This is the difference between us and them."

Ahmadinejad, known for his fiery rhetoric, has become a pariah in the West. But he received a warm welcome in Indonesia, where his willingness to criticize the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - seen by many here as attacks on Islam - his outspoken criticism of Israel, and his refusal to stand down to international pressure on the nuclear dispute resonates with many of its young people..

Key U.N. Security Council members agreed Tuesday to postpone a resolution that would have delivered an ultimatum to Tehran, giving Iran another two weeks to re-evaluate its insistence on developing its uranium enrichment capabilities.

The Chinese and Russians have balked at British, French and U.S. efforts to put the resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter.

Such a move would declare Iran a threat to international peace and security and set the stage for further measures if Tehran refuses to suspend its uranium enrichment operations.

Those measures could range from breaking diplomatic relations to economic sanctions and military action.

The Iranian leader brushed off the threat, saying in an interview with Metro TV that the West had more to lose than Tehran did if it was internationally isolated. Sanctions would serve only to "motivate" Iran's nuclear scientists, he said.

Asked what it would take to begin talks to resolve the standoff, Ahmadinejad told the station Iran was "ready to engage in dialogue with anybody."

"But if someone points a weapon at your face and says you must speak, will you do that?"

Ahmadinejad also continued his verbal attacks on Israel - last year he said the Jewish state should be "wiped off the map" and questioned whether the Holocaust was a myth - calling it a "a tyrannical regime that one day will be destroyed."

He repeated earlier allegations that European countries were driven by anti-Semitism when they decided to establish a Jewish state in the midst of Muslim countries.

They wanted the Jews out of their own backyard, he said, and by surrounding them with their enemies paved the way for their ultimate destruction.

[Last modified May 12, 2006, 11:19:36]

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