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U.S.: Halt nukes and we’ll talk

Ultra Jewish Orthodox boys attend a special prayer calling for the death of Iran’s president at a religious school in Jerusalem, Sunday. Yaakov Batsri of the Sukat David School said the prayer was linked to the upcoming holiday of Purim, when Jews overcame Persian tyrant Haman through prayer and fasting.

AP photo

Ahmadinejad

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. would hold direct talks with Iran if Tehran suspended its nuclear program. Iran’s president, however, pledged to move ahead with enrichment activity that Washington contends masks weapons development.

“I am prepared to meet my counterpart or an Iranian representative at any time if Iran will suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities. That should be a clear signal,” Rice said in Washington.

Earlier Sunday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad compared his nation’s nuclear drive to a train without a reverse gear or brakes. “We dismantled the rear gear and brakes of the train and threw them away sometime ago,” he was quoted on the radio as telling Islamic clerics.

Iran says its energy program is peaceful.

Vice President Dick Cheney said last week on his trip to Australia that the United States believes “it would be a serious mistake if a nation such as Iran became a nuclear power.” He reaffirmed the Bush administration’s policy that “all options are on the table” to deter Tehran.

Rice said the Iranians “don’t need a reverse gear. They need to stop and then we can come to the table and we can talk about how to move forward.” She contended Ahmadinejad’s stands are isolating his country.

“I have no doubt that the Iranian people want to be like other people, capable of carrying out their freedom of having greater pluralism in their politics. All of that is important.”

President Bush, she said, “has made very clear that around the world we’re going to continue to advocate for democracy. We are. However, with Iran, in a situation in which they are in defiance of the international community and they need to change that behavior, then we can talk about everything.

“And we’ll talk about it with this regime. I’ve said that I am prepared to meet my counterpart or an Iranian representative at any time if Iran will suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities. That should be a clear signal,” Rice said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Thursday that Iran had ignored a U.N. Security Council ultimatum to freeze its uranium enrichment program and expanded the program by setting up hundreds of centrifuges.

A council resolution adopted Dec. 23 penalized Tehran and warned of further punishment if Iran did not comply.

Diplomats from the five permanent Security Council members and Germany planned to meet in London today to begin discussing what steps to take to increase international pressure on Tehran to cooperate.

“People in Iran are concerned about the fact that financial institutions are moving out of Iran and refusing to deal with Iran,” Rice said.

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