Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad proposed holding talks with US President George Bush in a surprise suggestion.
The country is at odds with Washington over its disputed nuclear programme and involvement in Iraq, Iran’s state-run Arabic satellite TV channel reported.
“Last year, I announced readiness for a televised debate over global issues with his excellency Mr Bush. And now we announce that I am ready to negotiate with him about bilateral issues as well as regional and international issues,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying on the website of Al-Alam.
The Iranian leader did not elaborate on what specifically he wanted to talk to Bush about, but he said the talks “should be held with media present".
It was not immediately clear if Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters, supports Ahmadinejad’s proposal.
Khamenei has regularly rejected any direct talks between Tehran and Washington because of what he calls the US “bullying” policy toward Iran. The two countries have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 storming of the US Embassy in Tehran.
The Bush administration said the US has already offered discussions.
“Instead of offering televised debates or a media spectacle, the United States has offered actual discussions if Iran would only agree to what the international community has asked for repeatedly: stop uranium enrichment and reprocessing,” Gordon Johndroe, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House, said yesterday. “We’re ready whenever they are.”
Ahmadinejad’s offer was not the first overture he has made to Bush. Last year, Ahmadinejad proposed holding a televised debate with the American president, but the White House called the offer “a diversion from the legitimate concerns” about Iran’s nuclear programme.
Also last year, Ahmadinejad wrote a letter to the US president that Washington dismissed as irrelevant because it also did not address the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme.
The United States accuses Tehran of helping to fuel Shiite militias in Iraq - charges Iran denies. Washington also says Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons.
Tehran also denies those allegations, saying its programme is for peaceful purposes including generating electricity.
Ahmadinejad also told Al-Alam that he thought the US was “unlikely” to use military force against Iran because of its nuclear programme.
US officials have said Washington has no plans to attack Iran.
“It is unlikely that such a will exists in the United States. I think there are enough wise people in the US administration to prevent such a decision,” Al-Alam’s website quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
The Iranian leader said a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities was a wrong approach to solving the issue.
“If some think that by resorting to threats they (can) change the world in favor of themselves, they are wrong,” Al-Alam quoted him as saying.
Earlier, Ahmadinejad defended what he said were Iran’s peaceful nuclear intentions and called on the European Union to speak for itself when it came to nuclear negotiations.
“If the EU wants to have a role internationally, it needs to act independently,” the Iranian president Spain’s state television TVE. “If it wants to translate the words of the United States, for that we already have the United States.
Iran and the European Union were to resume talks in Turkey tomorrow over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme.
Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, said he was to meet with top Iranian negotiator, Ali Larijani, to see if Tehran can be persuaded to halt uranium enrichment in exchange for negotiations about economic incentives.
The UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on Tehran over its refusal to freeze enrichment. According to a document by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran has started feeding small amounts of uranium gas into centrifuges that can enrich it to weapons-grade level and is already running more than 1,300 of the machines.
The enrichment process can produce fuel for nuclear reactors or – if taken to a higher degree – the material for atomic bombs.