Iran's president says nuclear program is peaceful

Iran's president insisted Wednesday that his country's nuclear program is peaceful and that it has every right to pursue new technology, amid U.S-led international efforts to get Tehran to suspend enrichment of uranium.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made the remarks after meeting with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who said his country, the world's most populous Muslim nation, was willing to mediate in the standoff.

Ahmadinejad told reporters that Iran will "absolutely not back out" from defending its right to pursue new technology, accusing the United States of monopolizing the nuclear technology market to secure profits and at the same time engaging in non-peaceful proliferation.

"Today the people of Iran are not just defending their own rights, but also those of other nations," he said. "They (the United States) want to prevent other countries from reaching the pinnacle of science and technology."

Ahmadinejad, fighting a U.S.-led effort to bring United Nations sanctions down on Iran if it refuses to compromise on the nuclear standoff, is in Indonesia for a three-day state visit followed by a development conference on the resort island of Bali.

The fiery Iranian leader raised hopes of a breakthrough with the United States just days ago by sending a letter to President George W. Bush, the first such letter to an American leader in 27 years.

But the letter was quickly dismissed by Washington.

Ahmadinejad said he was not "disquieted" by the reaction.

"If they choose not to answer our question, it depends on them," he said, adding that he felt it was the correct decision to send the letter.

Yudhoyono, speaking at a joint news conference after the two met for about 90 minutes, said he believes Iran is willing to resolve the issue peacefully through further negotiations, and offered to help mediate.

"Hopefully, in this very critical issue we can cooperate well in reducing the tensions," he said.

Yudhoyono's spokesman said later that Iran was very receptive to Yudhoyono's offer, which he said was still at the "embryonic" stage.

"We need to breathe new life into the negotiations," said Dino Pati Djalal, reports the AP.

I.L.

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