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Ahmadinejad Boasts 'Start-To-Finish' Nuclear Mastery

May 24, 2006 -- Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said today that Iran has mastered the entire nuclear fuel, "from start to finish."

The Iranian president was speaking during commemorations of the 1982 recapture of Khorramshahr from Iraqi forces in the western Khuzestan Province.

His comments come amid reports of increased activity behind the scenes in the standoff over Iran's disputed nuclear program. "The Washington Post" quoted anonymous U.S. officials and foreign diplomats on May 23 suggesting that Tehran is seeking direct talks with Washington on the nuclear issue.

The paper claimed Iranian officials have sought to enlist International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as well as Indonesian and Kuwaiti officials, to express their interest in dialogue with the United States.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck was quoted by Reuters as saying there would be no immediate comment on the report in "The Washington Post."

The newspaper quoted a Tehran-based analyst and former Iranian government official, Saeed Laylaz, as claiming a "changing strategy" on Iran's part that includes "reach[ing] out" on the nuclear issue, according to Reuters.

Purported Foreign Threat

In Khozestan Province, Ahmadinejad cautioned foreign countries against attacking his country, saying they would receive a "historic slap" if they did so.

He also claimed the United States and its allies are "hatching plots" to spark ethnic violence in a strategy aimed at destabilizing Iran.

A recent stir over a cartoon in the state-controlled daily "Iran" that offended ethnic Azeris has resulted in protests in Iran's northwest -- including a number of arrests -- and the first closure of a newspaper since Ahmadinejad came to power in August, according to AP.

"Today, [the United States and its allies] are hatching plots," Ahmadinejad was quoted by AP as saying. "They want to provoke differences, divisions, disappointment...to prevent the Iranian nation from achieving all of its rights."

Iranian officials have consistently defended their nuclear program, which they claim is purely peaceful, by saying the country is merely exercising its sovereign and lawful rights.

(compiled from agency reports)

Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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