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Iran: Nuclear talks still possible
Nuclear negotiator Javad Vaeedi says Iran will resume nuclear activites and end international cooperation.


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Condoleezza Rice

(CNN) -- A day after the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog voted to report Iran to the Security Council for possible sanctions related to its nuclear program, Tehran said diplomacy may still resolve its apparent impasse with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"We have not reached a dead end, and there have been more difficult situations," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamed Reza-Asefi said Sunday.

"We will cooperate with the international agency. We have cooperated in the past with regards to the non-proliferation treaty. We still say that the doors of dialogue are open. We have said it before, and say it again. We will use all ways and possibilities, and this also goes for the international agency."

The apparent willingness to negotiate came a day after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ordered the Islamic state to end its voluntary cooperation with U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency, meaning Iran will end snap inspections of its nuclear facilities and begin enriching uranium, according to state-run Iranian media.

His move was in retaliation for the vote earlier Saturday by the IAEA to report Iran's nuclear activities to the U.N. Security Council, which could lead to sanctions against the nation.

Iranian television said Ahmadinejad issued the order in a letter to Iran's Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh, who is the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization.

On Thursday, Iranian's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani had warned IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei that Iran would halt the inspections and begin uranium enrichment if its nuclear dossier was sent to the Security Council.

The council could issue sanctions against Iran, but it will not consider any action until ElBaradei presents his report to the IAEA in March.

The IAEA wants Iran to take action to prove its nuclear intentions are peaceful, as the Islamic state insists.

In addition, talks are scheduled for February 16 in Moscow between Russia and Iran. Moscow's proposal, which has gained international support, would have uranium for Iran enriched on Russian soil.

Iran has said its voluntary suspension of uranium enrichment and its agreement to unannounced inspections of its nuclear facilities should have been enough to secure international trust that its intentions are peaceful.

U.S.: 'Ball in Iran's court'

Following the IAEA's decision, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice issued a statement supporting the move, which she said "underscores the concern of the entire international community about Iran's nuclear program."

And, in a written statement, U.S. President George W. Bush said the vote "sends a clear message to Iran that the world will not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons."

He called the vote "the beginning of an intensified diplomatic effort to prevent the Iranian regime from developing nuclear weapons."

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Saturday that the vote puts "the ball in Iran's court" but said he was "not filled with hope that Iran will do the right thing."

"Iran is not a country that feels any obligation to the world community," Burns said.

"But they [Iran] cannot now simply go forward -- there is now a diplomatic noose around its neck."

War 'worst option'

U.S. Sen. John McCain, the Republican from Arizona who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CNN the situation was "a serious crisis" and restated the U.S. position that all options, including military action, are on the table.

But he called military action "the worst of all options except for allowing Iran to have nuclear weapons, which would destabilize the entire Middle East."

"It's unacceptable for Iran to [violate] the nonproliferation treaty, to proceed down this route, to be nuclear-armed and dedicated to the extinction of their neighbor [Israel], which is what their president said at the United Nations and has repeated since," McCain said, speaking at a security meeting in Munich.

"We will exhaust all possible options before seriously considering the military option, but it cannot be taken of the table."

Merkel: Complacency breeds catastrophe

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also took issue with Iran's anti-Semitic remarks of late, even saying that the Holocaust could've been avoided if people weren't so complacent, according to Reuters.

"Looking back to German history in the early 1930s when National Socialism was on the rise, there were many outside Germany who said, 'It's only rhetoric -- don't get excited,' " Merkel said, according to Reuters.

She added: "A president who questions Israel's right to exist, a president who denies the Holocaust, cannot expect to receive any tolerance from Germany."

The Iranian representative at the conference, Abbas Aragchi of the Foreign Ministry, responded that his country had cooperated with the IAEA for three years, to no avail. He added that Israel possessed scores of nuclear weapons, a claim the Israeli government has never acknowledged.

"There is a country in our region with more than 200 nuclear warheads, with a background of violation of Security Council resolutions, with a background of occupation of others' land, with violation of human rights of Palestinians," Aragchi said.

"This is not considered a threat? But lab-scale nuclear activity for peaceful purposes -- that we have always declared -- should be considered a red line, as a threat?"

The situation could've been resolved through diplomacy, but Iranian parliamentary law requires the nation to halt any negotiations if it is referred to the Security Council, meaning "escalation of the dispute," Aragchi added.

Merkel said Iran needed to change its laws.

CNN's Matthew Chance, Elise Labott, Lesa Jansen, Richard Roth and Jamie McIntyre, and Journalist Shirzad Bozorgmehr contributed to this report.

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