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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Iran Open to Offer by UN Powers

Itar-TassAhmadinejad following Putin and Hu during the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on Thursday.
SHANGHAI -- President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Iran was ready to open negotiations on an offer by UN powers designed to encourage Tehran to relinquish its nuclear fuel enrichment program.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad signaled Iran's willingness to take a step forward in resolving the nuclear dispute during talks with Putin.

"The Iranian side responded positively to the six-nation proposal for a way out of the crisis," Putin told reporters after the talks.

"Iran is ready to enter negotiations," he said, adding that he hoped Iran would soon set a date for the start of talks.

Ehsan Jahandideh, a member of the Iranian president's delegation in Shanghai for a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, confirmed that Ahmadinejad offered to enter into negotiations over the six-nation proposal "to ease tensions."

The positive Iranian response is a tentative step forward for the most significant diplomatic initiative in more than three years of on-again, off-again negotiations on Iran's nuclear program.

But moving forward is likely to prove difficult: On Thursday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vowed Iran would resist Western pressure over the nuclear program.

The offer made last month by the United States, three EU countries, China and Russia was the first time that the United Nations powers agreed to a joint approach. The proposal called for negotiations, with the United States to take part, and other incentives on the condition that Iran freeze its uranium enrichment program.

Russia has been Iran's staunchest backer in the dispute with the West, followed by China. Ahmadinejad meets Chinese President Hu Jintao on Friday.

At the start of their meeting, Putin emphasized Russia's strong support for Iran but also urged Ahmadinejad to address the West's concerns.

"Russia has always been a reliable partner of Iran," Putin said. He said Iran had a right to nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, but he called on Tehran to "completely assuage the concerns of the international community about proliferation."

In response, Ahmadinejad thanked Russia for its continuing support. "Our positions are clear and very close to one another," he said.

While a step forward, the Iranian response does not commit Tehran to freezing the uranium enrichment program, which the United States suspects may be used to make fuel for nuclear warheads. Rather, it likely signals another period of bargaining before the sides negotiate a possible freeze and specific incentives.

Before the latest diplomatic maneuvering, a senior Chinese diplomat said Beijing would not endorse sanctions.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would only do so if Iran violates the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty -- which uranium enrichment activities do not.