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Obama offers to accept Iran's civilian nuclear programme
President Barack Obama has told Iran the United States would accept Tehran having a civilian nuclear programme if the Islamic state can prove it is not seeking atomic weapons, the Washington Post said Friday.
Obama sent such a message to Tehran via Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who delivered it to Iran's Supreme leader Ali Khamenei last week, said the newspaper's foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius.
"President Obama has signaled Iran that the United States would accept an Iranian civilian nuclear program if Supreme leader Ali Khamenei can back up his recent public claim that his nation 'will never pursue nuclear weapons'," said Ignatius. "A few days before traveling to Iran, Erdogan had held a two-hour meeting with Obama in Seoul, in which they discussed what Erdogan would tell the ayatollah about the nuclear issue and Syria," he wrote.
The United States said Thursday that it still expected Iran to hold talks with six world powers on the Islamic republic's disputed nuclear program to go ahead next week, despite a dispute on the venue being Istanbul or Baghdad.
According to Ignatius, Obama asked Erdogan to tell Khamenei "that the Iranians should realize that time is running out for a peaceful settlement and that Tehran should take advantage of the current window for negotiations." However, "Obama didn't specify whether Iran would be allowed to enrich uranium domestically as part of civilian program the United States would endorse. That delicate issue evidently would be left for the negotiations."
Turkey has told Iran it remains ready to host the talks between Iran and the P5+1 group, Iran's Al-Alam television station reported Friday, but the Islamic republic has said it wanted the meeting held in Baghdad or China instead. Iran last held talks with the six powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — in January 2011 with no results.
Ignatius added that "the challenge for negotiators is whether it's possible to turn Khamenei's public rhetoric into a serious and verifiable commitment not to build a bomb."
Foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast also sought to soothe diplomatic ties on Friday. "Statements by people in the two countries should not affect the strategic relations between Iran and Turkey," he said, apparently referring to comments by hardliners denouncing Turkey's hostile stance towards the Syrian regime. "Iran and Turkey are two powerful and influential countries in the region which have strategic relations and common positions on most political and international matters."
He said differences of opinion on certain regional issues were normal and should be approached "through dialogue and consultation."
A senior Chinese diplomat said on Friday an attack on Iran would invite devastating retaliation that would envelop the region and destabilise the global economic recovery, and added that the international community had to restrain itself from war.
Iran is locked in a dispute with the West over its nuclear programme, which Iran says is for peaceful purposes. Israel and the United States have threatened military action against Iran unless it abandons activities which the West suspects are intended to develop nuclear weapons. China, which has close energy and trade ties with Iran, has urged a negotiated solution to the dispute and long opposed the use of force or unilateral sanctions on Iran.
The comments by Chen Xiaodong, head of the Foreign Ministry's West Asia and North African affairs division, was China's strongest warning yet not to use force to resolve the dispute. "If force is used on Iran, it will certainly incur retaliation, cause an even greater military clash, worsen turmoil in the region, threaten the security of the Strait of Hormuz and other strategic passages, drive up global oil prices and strike a blow at the world economic recovery," he said.