Munich: Iran today responded positively to US Vice President Joe Biden's offer to hold direct negotiations with the authorities in Teheran over the country's contested nuclear programme, but demanded the West to stop building up pressure on the country.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akhbar Salehi, who was eagerly awaited at the 49th Munich Security Conference, welcomed Biden's statement as "positive" and as a "step forward".
However, he repeated his country's position that it will be prepared for negotiations with the US only when they take place on an "equal basis".
"Unfortunately, every time we have negotiated, it was the other side which did not adhere to its commitments," Salehi told around 400 delegates on the final day of the three-day conference.
Addressing the conference yesterday, Biden said the Obama administration is prepared to hold direct negotiations with Iran to end the stand-off over its nuclear programme if the Iranian leadership takes them seriously.
"There is still time for diplomacy, but it has to be successful. The ball is now in Iran's court," Biden said.
Participating in a panel discussion, Salehi said that the next opportunity for dialogue on Iran's nuclear programme will come on February 25 when the so-called "P5+1" group involving the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany hold their meeting in Kazakhstan on February 25.
He rejected claims that Iran is secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons programme and it is hiding vital information from the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
He insisted that the IAEA has not so far confirmed that Iran is pursuing a nuclear programme for military purposes and "those who accuse the country must provide the evidence to support their charges."
Iran has answered questions on all six outstanding issues submitted by the IAEA and it is optimistic that the dispute can be fully resolved in the coming months, he said.
The Iranian Foreign Minister demanded the West to stop pressurising his country and to refrain from "making threats" ahead of negotiations.
He also warned against "double standards" in international politics and insisted that his country is not seeking a confrontation with the West.
The foreign minister claimed that his country is a regional power, which holds the "golden key" to the entire region.
The utmost goal of the Iranian leadership is to safeguard the nation's independence.
However, a series of economic sanctions imposed on his country by the West are hurting the economy and increasing the hardships of the population.
However, this is a price Iran is prepared to pay to "safeguard our political independence," he said.
Salehi said his country is facing huge economic problems, especially a high level of unemployment and a high rate of inflation, which have been aggravated by the sanctions.
But the country has made impressive gains under a strict sanctions regime such as successfully putting several satellites into the orbit, he said.
Israel's Defence Minister Yehud Barak told the conference earlier that his country will not allow Iran to become a nuclear power.
Israel will use all options, including the use of force, to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, he said.
The Israeli government is fully convinced that Iran is determined to make nuclear weapons as Pakistan and North Korea did earlier, he told the conference.
The leadership in Iran has been making all efforts to "deceive" the international community about the real objectives of its nuclear programme, he said.
The sanctions imposed on Iran are very effective, but they will not force the country's leadership to make any compromises.
Therefore, the international community must act decisively to prevent Iran becoming a nuclear power and further destabilise the already complicated situation in the Middle East, Barak said.