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'If US has new approach, Iran would repond'

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview aired on US television that if the US adopted a genuinely new approach to his country Tehran would respond in a positive way.

world Updated: Jul 28, 2008 20:37 IST

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview aired on US television on Monday that if the United States adopted a genuinely new approach to his country Tehran would respond in a positive way.

"Today, we see new behavior shown by the United States and the officials of the United States. My question is, is such behavior rooted in a new approach?" the president told NBC in a rare interview with a US broadcaster.

"In other words, mutual respect, cooperation and justice? Or is this approach a continuation in the confrontation with the Iranian people, but in a new guise?" he said from Tehran, speaking through an interpreter.

If US behavior represented a genuine change, "we will be facing a new situation and the response by the Iranian people will be a positive one," Ahmadinejad said in an excerpt of the interview, conducted in the presidential compound.

Ahmadinejad's comments, which will be aired in full later on Monday, came after the United States took the unprecedented step of sending a top diplomat to meet Iran's chief negotiator at talks in Geneva over Tehran's disputed nuclear program.

The interview also follows Ahmadinejad's announcement on Saturday that Iran had boosted the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges to 6,000, in an expansion of its nuclear drive that defies international calls for a freeze.

Iran is already under three sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, which makes nuclear fuel as well as the fissile core of an atomic bomb.

Ahmadinejad reiterated in the interview that Tehran was not working to build nuclear weapons.

"We are not working to manufacture a bomb. We don't believe in a nuclear bomb," he said when asked if Iran sought to be a nuclear power.

History had shown that possessing nuclear weapons did not help other countries with their political goals, he added.

World powers, seeking to resolve the standoff, and concerned Tehran is pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons project, have offered to start pre-negotiations during which Tehran would add no more uranium-enriching centrifuges and in return face no further sanctions.

Iran was given a two-week deadline to give a final answer to world powers after talks a week ago in Geneva with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana ended in stalemate.

Ahmadinejad said he hoped the negotiations would yield progress.

"They submitted a package and we responded by submitting our own package. They again submitted a work plan and we submitted our own work plan," he said in the interview.

"It's very natural that in the first steps, we are going to negotiate over the common ground as it exists 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."

When asked about the proposal from Western powers that offers improved trade terms and other incentives, Ahmadinejad said Iran was a "mighty country" that was not at all isolated.

"Well, the world -- the doors, rather, of the larger world are not closed to us. This is a great and mighty country, a great nation with a great economy, a rich culture, thousands of years of history and civilization and we have very good economic and cultural relations with countries around the world," he said.

"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."

The United States has warned Tehran of "punitive measures" if it spurns the offer and presses on with enrichment.

Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, insisting that its program is designed to provide energy for its growing population when the leading OPEC member's reserves of fossil fuels run out.

Permanent Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany have made Iran an offer, which includes trade incentives and help with a civilian nuclear program in return for suspending enrichment.

Iranian officials have repeatedly said they have no intention of freezing enrichment and that as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the right to make its own nuclear fuel.