Obama mimicks Bush: Rafsanjani

Influential former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Tuesday accused US president-elect Barack Obama of mimicking his predecessor's tough stance on Tehran's nuclear drive. "I don't expect someone who considers himself to be originally from Africa and a member of the oppressed black race in America to repeat what (George W.) Bush has to say," Rafsanjani said in a sermon on state radio. In an interview broadcast on Sunday, Obama vowed "tough but direct diplomacy" with Iran, offering incentives along with the threat of tougher sanctions over its atomic programme. During his term, Bush spearheaded the international campaign against Iran's atomic drive which the United States fears could be a cover for ambitions to build nuclear weapons, allegations denied by Tehran.

The outgoing US president once famously branded Iran as part of an "axis of evil" and never ruled out military action over its nuclear work. "I advise (Obama)... we don't want your incentives and your punishments will not stop us either," he said in a speech marking the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice or Eid al-Adha. "It's better for you to be reasonable and not to deprive Iran of its rights." The UN Security Council has repeatedly demanded that Iran freeze its uranium enrichment work, the process which makes nuclear fuel as well as the fissile core of an atom bomb, but Tehran has refused.

The Iranian government has also expressed interest in more direct talks with the US but has consistently refused to alter its nuclear program as a precondition. It has also rejected past offers of economic incentives by the international community to scale back its nuclear activities, a sentiment echoed Monday by Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hasan Qashqavi.

"The carrot and stick policy has no benefit," Qashqavi told reporters during his weekly press briefing. "It is unacceptable and failed."

A panel of former top international officials voiced hope Tuesday for a progress in settling the Iranian nuclear standoff after Barack Obama takes office.

Hans Blix, the former head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, said he expects the new US administration to take a fresh approach to the deadlocked international talks on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"I hope that the Obama administration in the United States will be more imaginative" on the issue than its predecessors, Blix said after a session of the Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe. The forum, which includes former top officials and leading academics, focuses on challenges to the global security.

Igor Ivanov, a former Russian foreign minister who served as secretary of the presidential Security Council, also said he expects the change of administration in Washington to play a positive role in the Iranian nuclear dispute.

"The new administration coming to power in the United States could breathe a new life into the negotiation process," Ivanov told reporters.

Iran does not currently have the capability to build a nuclear weapon, a senior Russian diplomat was quoted as saying by Interfax and ITAR-TASS news agencies Tuesday.

"One cannot say today that Iran can create nuclear weapons and the means of delivering them," Vladimir Voronkov, head of the Russian foreign ministry's department of European cooperation, was quoted as saying.

"This information is confirmed by all the services responsible for the collection and analysis of information," he added, in an apparent allusion to Russian intelligence agencies.

Contrasting the stances of Russia and the West on Iran's nuclear programme, he said that "the difference is that our partners want to use instruments of pressure. We do not consider such instruments to be always effective."

Iran will never halt its nuclear work and expects the United States to change its "failed" carrot-and-stick approach to solving the atomic row with Tehran, the Foreign Ministry said.

"When they stick to their past view regarding suspending uranium enrichment, our answer will be: Iran will never suspend uranium enrichment," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi told reporters.

Source: Arab Times, Kuwait