Iran will not talk with US on nuclear dispute: cleric

TEHRAN, June 30, 2006 (AFP) – A top Iranian cleric reiterated Friday that the Islamic republic will not hold negotiations with arch-foe the United States on its controversial nuclear programme.

"Who is America to snoop on our nuclear issue?" Hojatoleslam Ahmad Khatami asked in his sermon at the main weekly Muslim prayers in Tehran, broadcast live on state radio.

"In the nuclear issue, we have nothing to do with America and our officials will certainly not negotiate with them."

On Tuesday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei rejected any possibility that Tehran and Washington would enter into talks about the country’s sensitive atomic programme.

"Negotiations with the United States are of no use for us. We have no need for such negotiations," Khamenei said.

World powers on Thursday gave Iran one more week to provide a "clear and substantive response" to an international proposal on suspending uranium enrichment, but Tehran immediately rejected the deadline.

Foreign ministers of the G8 group of leading nations said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani will meet next Wednesday to discuss the plan.

"We expect to hear a clear and substantive Iranian response to these proposals at the planned meeting," the ministers said in a statement in Moscow, where they were preparing a July 15-17 summit in Saint Petersburg.

But Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tehran would not respond before late August.

The plan, drawn up by the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany, offers Iran a package of incentives and multilateral talks in return for halting uranium enrichment, the process that makes fuel for reactors but also atom bomb material.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is for generating electricity and that uranium enrichment is needed to provide the fuel. The European Union and the United States suspect Iran of hiding a military project.