Iran General NewsIranian president casts doubt on US engagement

Iranian president casts doubt on US engagement

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ImageAP: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad railed against the U.S. in a speech Thursday, showing little indication of embracing Washington's offer of engagement, a day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said time was running out.

The Associated Press

By NASSER KARIMI

ImageTEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad railed against the U.S. in a speech Thursday, showing little indication of embracing Washington's offer of engagement, a day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said time was running out.

Tension between the two countries has increased following Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election victory last month. The controversy over the election seemed to claim its latest victim Thursday as the government announced the head of Iran's nuclear agency has resigned.

Officials gave no reason for Gholam Reza Aghazadeh's resignation, but he has long been close to opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims to be the victor in the June 12 presidential election and says Ahmadinejad's government is illegitimate.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, speaking on the sidelines of a summit in Egypt, said he did not believe Aghazadeh's departure would change Iran's nuclear policy. He was not involved in negotiations with the West, and ultimately all policy decisions lie with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

President Barack Obama has offered to engage Iran in dialogue with the hope of reducing tension over the country's nuclear program, which the West fears is aimed at developing a nuclear weapon but Tehran maintains is peaceful.

Obama has said Iran has until the end of the year to respond positively to Washington's offer. Clinton reinforced the sense of urgency Wednesday, saying "the time for action is now."

But the Iranian government has accused the U.S. and other Western countries of inciting the massive street protests that followed the election and has bridled against criticism of the state's violent crackdown.

"They tried to interfere in our elections. They talked nonsense. They were rude. They fomented aggression against people's wealth and property," Ahmadinejad told a crowd of thousands in the northwestern city of Mashhad.

The U.S. and others have denied the allegations, but Ahmadinejad demanded an apology Thursday as a necessary step to facilitate dialogue.

"They should know we are prepared to negotiate on mutual respect and justice," said Ahmadinejad. "If they act otherwise, we will give the same reply we gave to President Bush that has been buried in history."

During Bush's time in office, Aghazadeh, the departing nuclear chief, pushed steadily ahead with Iran's program. He has announced several times in the past year advances in manufacturing centrifuges, a key component of Iran's uranium enrichment program.

Mohsen Delaviz, a spokesman for Iran's atomic energy department, told The Associated Press that Aghazadeh was resigning "after years of efforts in the country's nuclear industry" and would explain his decision to leave himself.

It was not known whether Aghazadeh's resignation was connected to the election dispute. But if Aghazadeh, who held his post for 12 years, was pushed out or walked away because of differences over the election, it could signal a narrowing base of support for Ahmadinejad and signal that he will have to rely on more hard-line supporters in the new government he will form after his planned inauguration in August.

Aghazadeh has made no public comment on the election turmoil, but he has been a close associate of Mousavi ever since the presidential candidate was prime minister in the 1980s. The outgoing nuclear chief is also close to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a powerful cleric and former president who is a bitter rival of Ahmadinejad.

There have also been hints of behind-the-scenes differences between Aghazadeh and Ahmadinejad's energy minister over the planned opening of Iran's first nuclear plan at Bushehr, whose opening has repeatedly been delayed.

On Wednesday, Energy Minister Parviz Fattah complained that despite plans to start up Bushehr this summer, "so far, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization has not provided any information" on inaugurating it. The comments could suggest that Aghazadeh was resisting a rushed start to the reactor, which is being built with Russian aid.

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