Iran weighing offer in nuclear dispute

International proposal called `step forward'


SHANGHAI, China --Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said yesterday his country was seriously considering an international proposal to resolve a continuing dispute over Iran's uranium enrichment program.

Ahmadinejad made his vague but conciliatory statements about diplomatic efforts to ward off the country's emergence as a nuclear weapons producer in a wide-ranging news conference at the conclusion of a summit of Asian leaders here.

"My colleagues are carefully considering the package of proposals of the six countries, and in due time they will give them a response," the Iranian leader said. At another point in the news conference, he said, "Generally, we regard the offering of this package as a step forward," adding that his country "supports constructive talks on the basis of equality."

The proposal before Iran was put forth by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany. Ahmadinejad's visit here has put the spotlight on the diplomacy of China and Russia - both Security Council members - which have resisted sanctions as a means of resolving the enrichment crisis.

Although the details of their talks are not known and Ahmadinejad pointedly refused to discuss them when asked, the leaders of China and Russia are thought to have urged Iran to embrace the six-party international proposal.

China, host of the summit, and Russia, a co-founder of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, have appeared to be eager for a successful meeting that would boost the prestige of the five-year-old body.

That might help explain the restrained, even studied language of the Iranian leader, whose country is a candidate for membership in the organization but who has become known for blunt rhetoric and inflammatory commentary.

Although his repeated references to the United States were unmistakable, he never identified his designated nemesis.

"Some countries create problems for other countries and make the impression that these are problems for the entire international community," Ahmadinejad said. "Actually, they are making problems for themselves."

As he has done before, the Iranian leader also denied that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, referring repeatedly to the "Islamic Republic of Iran's peaceful nuclear program."

Ahmadinejad also maintained his skepticism about the authenticity of the Holocaust. He declined an opportunity to withdraw his Holocaust denial, saying that its history should be "investigated by impartial and independent experts," and adding that the Palestinians should not be made victims because of events in European history.

He concluded his remarks on that subject, however, by saying that "there are no differences between Jews, Christians and Muslims."

Asked whether he was concerned about the possibility of an Israeli attack on his country's uranium enrichment plants, similar to the 1981 Israeli aerial attack on the Osirak nuclear plant near Baghdad, Iraq, Ahmadinejad brushed the question off with a quick "no." But moments later he said his country has the means to defend itself.

Iran's status as an observer and candidate for membership poses delicate questions for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a six-member body that includes China, Russia and a number of Central Asian republics that were once part of the Soviet Union.

China is in the midst of a carefully measured bid to increase its diplomatic influence without alarming the United States or others, from Europe to India.

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