Iran will not give up its right to enrich uranium, as demanded by the West, but is ready to hold talks with the United States, the Islamic republic's foreign minister said on Thursday.
"We will not give up our nation's natural right (to enrichment), we will not hold talks over it. But we are ready to hold talks over mutual concerns," said Manouchehr Mottaki in response to a US offer of talks if Iran suspended enrichment activities.
"Iran supports fair talks without discrimination," he said, but added that Washington had to change its behaviour if it wanted new relations with Iran.
In a policy shift, the United States said on Wednesday that it would join European governments in direct nuclear talks with Iran if it suspended its uranium enrichment, which Western powers believe is aimed at developing an atomic bomb.
The offer was announced by the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, before major powers were to meet on Thursday in Vienna to discuss Iran's nuclear activities.
"Rice's statement was not something new. This is what was said in her previous speeches and interviews. It lacked a logical and new solution to resolve Iran's nuclear issue," Mottaki said.
"It (Rice's announcement) was like a piece of literature and ... was aimed at covering up their failure in Iraq and other parts of the world."
Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter, says its atomic aims are civilian and that it only wants to generate electricity.
Tehran has previously said it is willing to negotiate on the number of uranium-enriching centrifuges it uses for research, but has stressed it will not stop running the devices entirely as the UN Security Council has called for.
Rice said on Wednesday: "To underscore our commitment to a diplomatic solution and to enhance prospects for success, as soon as Iran fully and verifiably suspends its enrichment and reprocessing activities, the United States will come to the table with our EU3 colleagues and meet with Iran's representatives."
Rice leaves for Vienna on Wednesday to meet the permanent five members of the UN Security Council and Germany to discuss a package of incentives and threats to get Iran to abandon its nuclear programme.
Rice said the US had agreed on the "essential elements" of the package and she hoped Iran's government would thoroughly consider the proposal.
A state department official said Russia and China had agreed to return to the UN Security Council to seek sanctions against Iran if it did not "accept this offer of negotiations or does not negotiate in good faith".