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No derailing program, Iran says

US sets condition for nuclear talks

Ahmadinejad compared the program to a runaway train. Ahmadinejad compared the program to a runaway train.

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States would hold direct talks with Iran if Tehran suspended its nuclear program. Iran's president, however, pledged to move ahead with enrichment activity that Washington contends masks weapons development.

"I am prepared to meet my counterpart or an Iranian representative at any time if Iran will suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities. That should be a clear signal," Rice said in Washington.

Earlier yesterday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad compared his nation's nuclear drive to a train without a reverse gear or brakes. "We dismantled the rear gear and brakes of the train and threw them away some time ago," he was quoted on the radio as telling Islamic clerics.

Vice President Dick Cheney said last week on his trip to Australia that the United States believes "it would be a serious mistake if a nation such as Iran became a nuclear power." He reaffirmed the Bush administration's policy that "all options are on the table" to deter Tehran.

Rice said the Iranians "don't need a reverse gear. They need to stop and then we can come to the table and we can talk about how to move forward."

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Thursday that Iran had ignored a UN Security Council ultimatum to freeze its uranium program and had expanded the program by setting up hundreds of centrifuges.

Diplomats from the five permanent Security Council members and Germany planned to meet in London today to begin discussing what steps to take to increase international pressure on Tehran to cooperate.

The New Yorker magazine, meanwhile, reported in its latest issue that a special planning group has been set up in the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to develop a bombing plan against Iran that could be activated within 24 hours of Bush's orders. The author, Seymour Hersh, cited a former senior intelligence official as his source.

A Pentagon spokesman, Bryan Whitman, said yesterday he knew of no such planning group, the United States is not planning to go to war with Iran, and "to suggest anything to the contrary is simply wrong."