TEHRAN/WASHINGTON President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday Iran had ready proposals to end a standoff with six world powers as Washington insisted it would not drop a demand that Tehran suspend uranium enrichment work.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said major powers had not had a response yet from Tehran for talks over its nuclear program and she had not seen "any kind of proposal" from Iran to resolve the stalemate over its nuclear plans.
"We have prepared a package that can be the basis to resolve Iran's nuclear problem. It will be offered to the West soon," Ahmadinejad said in a televised speech in Iran's southeastern province of Kerman.
The United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain said last week they would ask European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana to invite Iran to a meeting to find "a diplomatic solution to this critical issue."
It marked a significant shift in U.S. policy under President Barack Obama, whose predecessor, George W. Bush, shunned direct talks with Tehran as long as it pressed ahead with uranium enrichment that the West believes is aimed at building a bomb but Iran says is for peaceful purposes.
The Obama administration has said it will meet Iran "without preconditions" but Clinton, who met Solana in Washington on Wednesday, made clear the United States had not given up pushing for Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment.
"We have not dropped or added any conditions," she said, without elaborating.
While seeking to engage Iran, the Obama administration has also warned of moves to impose tougher sanctions if Tehran keeps defying U.N. demands to halt sensitive nuclear work.
"We will stand behind the sanctions that have already been implemented and we will look for new ways to extend collective action vis a vis Iran's nuclear program," said Clinton.
"We will continue to work with our allies to make it clear that Iran cannot continue to pursue nuclear weapons."
On Monday, Iran welcomed a "constructive" dialogue with the six world powers, in its clearest signal that yet it would accept an invitation for talks on its nuclear activity.
It was unclear whether Iran's counter-offer would be essentially different from previous ill-fated exchanges. Ahmadinejad did not give details of the new package, but said the world could not be ruled by "using force."
"This new package will ensure peace and justice for the world. It respects rights of all nations," he said.
The six world powers originally offered Iran economic and political incentives in 2006 to suspend enrichment. Iran's response hinted at some flexibility but ruled out suspension as a precondition for talks as stipulated by the powers.
Last June the six improved the offer while retaining the precondition. In reply, Iran said it wanted to negotiate a broader peace and security deal and rejected any "condescending" formula to shelve its nuclear program.
Western officials said Iran's second response endorsed talks for talks' sake and was useless because it again sidestepped the suspension issue.
"OUT OF THE QUESTION"
They felt Iran was trying to buy time to expand and make irreversible its nuclear program.
An Iranian official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters that "suspension is out of the question" but that Iran did want to get talks rolling with major powers.
"Eventually Iran may agree to accept the (U.N. nuclear watchdog's) Additional Protocol," the official said.
The protocol, which expands on the basic nuclear safeguards accords many countries have with the International Atomic Energy Agency, permits short-notice IAEA inspections beyond declared nuclear sites, to help verify no covert activity is going on.
Iran stopped voluntarily implementing the Additional Protocol in 2006 in retaliation for initial U.N. sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic.
Underlining Iran's intention to continue with its nuclear drive despite Western pressure, Ahmadinejad on April 9 inaugurated its first nuclear fuel fabrication plant and said the country had now mastered the entire fuel cycle.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Sue Pleming, additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington, edited by Chris Wilson)