Nuclear fears not up for discussion
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said yesterday Tehran would not negotiate under pressure with anyone about its nuclear programme but would talk to its adversaries if they stopped "pointing the gun".
In a speech to mark the 34th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, Ahmadinejad struck a more conciliatory tone than Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who on February 7 rejected a US call for direct negotiations on disputes between the two countries.
Ahmadinejad does not have the authority to authorise negotiations on the nuclear programme. That belongs to Khamenei.
"You cannot point a gun at the Iranian nation and then expect them to have negotiations with you," Ahmadinejad said, speaking to a crowd in Tehran's Azadi (Freedom) Square.
His speech, which partly dealt with Iran's policy towards its "enemies", was carried live on Iranian state television.
"Talks should not be used as a lever to impose one's opinions . if you stop pointing the gun at the Iranian nation, I will negotiate [with you] myself," he said.
The US and its allies suspect that Iran is developing atomic weapons capability under the cover of a civilian nuclear energy programme, a charge Iran has denied.
It is felt that no nuclear deal is possible without a US-Iranian thaw, which would require direct talks about the many sources of mutual mistrust and hostility lingering since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and the hostage taking at the US embassy in Tehran.
Iran has agreed to a new round of talks on the nuclear dispute with world powers, in Kazakhstan on February 26. Tehran wants an end to sanctions that have slashed oil exports and helped reduce the value of the Iranian rial by about half in the past year. This has resulted in higher inflation and weakened buying power for ordinary Iranians.
Iranians bearing banners reading "Down With USA." and "We are standing until the end" gathered at state-organised mass demonstrations in the capital, Tehran, and other major cities to mark the anniversary of the ousting of a West-friendly monarchy in favour of clerical leadership.
Ahmadinejad did not deal with the specifics of Iran's nuclear programme, or the planned talks, in his speech. He said Iran would counter sanctions by increasing non-oil exports and weaning itself off crude-oil revenues.
"Today, enemies are trying their utmost to put pressure on the Iranian nation to stop its progress but they will not succeed," he said.
Last week, the US implemented a measure meant to "lock up" Iranian oil revenues by requiring them to be credited to accounts in countries that buy Iranian crude.
Supreme leader Khamenei on Thursday slapped down an offer of direct negotiations with the US, saying negotiations and pressure were incompatible. Khamenei was believed to have been replying to remarks by US Vice-President Joe Biden in a speech in Germany.