Iran wants a new round of talks with six world powers to focus on a host of issues including its rights as a nation, and even high-seas piracy, instead of international fears that it's building a nuclear bomb, according to confidential letters obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.
The correspondence appeared certain to strengthen Western concerns that Iran is drawing out years of negotiations with procedural delays and rhetorical debates in order to gain time to enrich enough uranium to build a bomb _ an intention Iran denies.
Iranian state television channel said Tuesday that the government had accepted a proposal by the European Union on behalf of six powers for a new meeting, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said it would be held in Istanbul. But the EU said no such plans have been made.
"We are surprised to hear the Iranians talking about meetings," EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said Wednesday. "On its own, Dr. Jalili's letter does not contain anything new and does not justify a further meeting."
The last session in January ended in failure, and the correspondence between top EU foreign official Catherine Ashton and chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili provides little cause for optimism.
Ashton's Feb. 11 letter says new talks need to focus on reducing fears about Iran's nuclear ambitions. Jalili's May 8 response evades that request. Instead, it urges "respect for democracy and the rights of the people" as the basis for new negotiations.
Uranium enrichment lies at the heart of the dispute between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany _ the world powers trying to nudge Iran toward compromise.
Low-enriched uranium can be used to fuel a reactor to generate electricity, which Iran says is the intention of its growing uranium enrichment program. But if uranium is further enriched to around 90 percent purity, it can be used to develop a nuclear warhead.
British and U.S. government officials both said that Iran should be ready for serious nuclear negotiations, if talks are to resume, and suggested Jalili's comments provided no reason to schedule new talks.
U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that while the six powers were consulting on Jalili's letter, "We've also been very candid in saying that unless there's a reason to meet, we shouldn't meet."
Toner told reporters that Washington stands behind Ashton in insisting that "Iran needs to address its nuclear program. That's the bottom line."
Ashton's letter to Jalili says a negotiated solution would need to "restore confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of your nuclear program." And it says that Tehran's preconditions _ that its right to enrich be recognized and that U.N. sanctions be lifted _ "are not acceptable to us."
In his response, Jalili suggests big power intransigence is the reason for the deadlock.
"Accepting the legitimate requests of the nations and refraining from conducts based on supremacy are the only way out of the current self-created stalemate," his letter says.
Sidestepping the main big-power demand _ substantive talks on enrichment _ Jalili says issues could focus on "combating the root cause of terrorism, drug trafficking, piracy in the high seas." It lists nuclear issues such as disarmament.
Jahn can be reached at http://twitter.com/ap_georgejahn
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Washington and Don Melvin in Brussels contributed.