WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday that Iran will seek “common ground” with the United States and five other world powers that have proposed incentives for Tehran to freeze its nuclear enrichment program.
NBC News, which interviewed Ahmadinejad in Iran, also said the leader of the world’s fourth-largest crude oil producer believes the oil market is overvalued in part because of manipulation.
Speaking less than a week before a deadline for Iran’s reply to the incentives package, Ahmadinejad told the U.S. television network that progress toward agreement with the West would depend on the sincerity of a shift in the U.S. approach to Tehran.
Western officials said after a meeting with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator in Geneva on July 19 that Tehran had two weeks to reply to an offer of a halt to new steps toward more U.N. sanctions if Iran froze the expansion of its nuclear program. That would give Iran until Saturday to reply.
“They submitted a package and we responded by submitting our own package,” Ahmadinejad said through an interpreter in an excerpt of the NBC interview aired on Monday.
“It’s very natural. In the first steps, we are going to negotiate over the common ground as they exist inside the two packages. If the two parties succeed in agreeing over the common ground, that will help us to work on our differences as well, to reach an agreement.”
U.S. State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos called Ahmedinejad’s comments “rhetoric and more rhetoric” and saying the State Department wanted a definitive response from Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, the West’s designated negotiator.
“We are waiting for a definitive statement, Gallegos said. “We have stated clearly that it should come through the normal channel, which is Jalili to Solana, and the clock on the two weeks is ticking.”
NBC also said Ahmadinejad denied Iran was working to produce a bomb, paraphrasing him as saying nuclear weapons are outdated.
Iran has so far ruled out a freeze to start preliminary talks or suspension of enrichment to start formal negotiations on the incentives package proposed by the six powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
In a policy shift, a U.S. diplomat attended the Geneva talks, which Iran has characterized as a success for Iran.
On Monday, Ahmadinejad told NBC: “The main question here is whether this approach is a continuation of the old approach or is it a totally new approach.
“If this is the continuation of the old process, the Iranian people need to defend their right, its interests as well,” he said. “But if the approach changes, we will be facing a new situation and the response by the Iranian people will be a positive one.”
The United States has warned Iran that it will face more sanctions if it fails to meet the deadline. Washington has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails.
Asked if Iran would agree to suspend uranium enrichment in order to gain international acceptance, Ahmadinejad said Iran already enjoys “very good economic and cultural relations with countries around the world.”
“For the continuation of our lives and for progress, we do not need the services, if I can use the word, of a few countries,” he said.
Ahmadinejad announced during the weekend that Iran had more than 5,000 active centrifuges for enriching uranium, which suggested a rapid expansion of the nuclear work that the West suspects is aimed at making bombs.
Earlier this month, Iran rattled international markets by test-firing a series of missiles.
(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed)
(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Bill Trott)