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IRAN SOFTENS STANCE ON NUCLEAR TALKS

The prime minister indicates the nuclear program is not off limits.

TEHRAN, Iran - Iran is not ruling out talks about its nuclear program with world powers but conditions for that have to be right, the country's top diplomat said Saturday, in a statement that appeared to soften Tehran's persistent refusal to discuss the controversial issue.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said he welcomed talks with the United States and its partners, adding that "should conditions be ripe, there is a possibility of talks about the nuclear issue."

The remarks came as the United States and its partner nations accepted a proposal made last week from Iran for broad talks - even though Tehran had said the nuclear issue was not on the table - and indicated Iran's eagerness to open a dialogue.

Iran on Wednesday presented the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, Russia, France, Britain and China - plus Germany with a proposal to hold "comprehensive, all-encompassing and constructive" talks on a range of security issues, including global nuclear disarmament.

The five-page document made no mention of Tehran's suspected nuclear program, which the West fears masks a nuclear arms pursuit but which Tehran asserts is only for electricity production.

It also ignored binding U.N. Security Council resolutions that require Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment, a possible pathway to nuclear weapons.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Monday that Tehran will neither halt uranium enrichment nor negotiate over its nuclear rights. But Mottaki's comments to reporters on Saturday indicated the nuclear program was not off limits.

U.S. officials say Iran is close to having the capabilities to produce a nuclear weapon.

President Barack Obama and European allies have given Iran until the end of September to take up an offer of nuclear talks with the six world powers and trade incentives should it suspend uranium enrichment activities. If not, Iran could face harsher punitive sanctions.

Iran has defied three sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions since 2006 for its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment.

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