President Ahmadinejad celebrated the 28th anniversary of Iranâ€™s Islamic Revolution yesterday by defiantly vowing to pursue his countryâ€™s nuclear programme.
But he confounded expectations that he would unveil new developments on the nuclear front that would have stoked tensions with the West. Analysts saw it as a sign that the establishment in Tehran was reining in the firebrand leader. In Germany, Iranâ€™s top nuclear negotiator sought to assure the world that Tehran wanted to ease regional tensions and that its nuclear programme was not a threat to Israel.
Ali Larijani told a meeting of the worldâ€™s senior security officials that Iran wanted to return to negotiations to reach an agreement within three weeks. â€œThat Iran is willing to threaten Israel is wrong,â€ he told the Munich Conference on Security Policy. â€œIf we are conducting nuclear research and development we are no threat to Israel. We have no intention of aggression against any country.â€ His words were a far cry from Mr Ahmadinejadâ€™s call for Israel to be â€œwiped off the mapâ€.
Mr Ahmadinejad told a crowd in Tehran that Iran would never surrender to the Westâ€™s key demand to stop enriching uranium. But he also expressed readiness to negotiate an end to the nuclear crisis.
There had been expectations that Mr Ahmadinejad would use the anniversary to declare that Iran had begun installing 3,000 centrifuges at its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.
Instead he promised news of â€œgreat progressâ€ by April 9. It was seen as evidence that pragmatists in the Iranian establishment had persuaded him against provoking the West, weeks after President Bush sent a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf. As Mr Ahmadinejad spoke, the huge crowd in Azadi square, Tehran, chanted slogans such as â€œDeath to Americaâ€ and â€œNuclear energy is our inalienable rightâ€.
A UN Security Council resolution for Iran to halt uranium enrichment or face further sanctions expires in nine days. Iran is relying on Russia to shield it from further sanctions, but President Putin said he failed to understand why Iran had not answered all the questions about its nuclear programme from the UNâ€™s nuclear watchdog.
Iran was ready for concessions such as running centrifuges that enrich uranium only to 4 per cent, Mr Larijani told a German newspaper. Uranium must be enriched to at least 80 per cent for nuclear bombs.
Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, said after meeting Mr Larijani that no deal had been reached but possible solutions were being explored.