Iran: Incentive package a 'step forward'

(AP) - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Friday that the six-nation incentive package aimed at getting his country to halt uranium enrichment was a step forward in resolving the dispute over Iran's nuclear program.

"Generally speaking, we're regarding this offer as a step forward and I have instructed my colleagues to carefully consider it," Ahmadinejad told reporters after meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of a regional summit in Shanghai.

Ahmadinejad's remark was the highest-level sign that Iran was preparing to negotiate over the package of incentives offered by the Big Five of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany.

The proposal called for negotiations, with the U.S. to take part, and other incentives on the condition that Iran freezes its uranium enrichment program.

Iran's leadership, however, has sent mixed signals on how it will respond to the proposals.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed Thursday that Iran would never back down on its nuclear program and dismissed the threat of U.N. Security Council sanctions.

"The Islamic Republic of Iran will not succumb to these pressures," state television quoted Khamenei as saying.

Speaking to Iranian nuclear experts in Tehran, Khamenei said the development of nuclear technology was more important than oil extraction the source of about 80 percent of Iran's foreign exchange.

"Let me tell you, the importance of achieving and using nuclear energy is higher than oil exploration for our country," Khamenei said.

Iranian officials have insisted that enrichment is an inalienable right and that talks must be unconditional. The process can produce fuel for nuclear power plants or material for atomic bombs.

The country denies accusations by the U.S. and others that it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, saying its program would only generate energy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Iran was prepared to negotiate on the basis of the incentives.

Speaking after talks with Ahmadinejad in Shanghai, Putin said: "The Iranian side responded positively to the six-nation proposal for a way out of the crisis."

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