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Iran ready to resume nuclear talks with West

By Robin Pomeroy

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran is prepared to return to negotiations on its nuclear program but insists the West drop its "bullying" stance and include friendlier countries in the talks, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Monday.

In his first news conference since the U.S. Congress approved new sanctions, Ahmadinejad dismissed the CIA's assertion that Iran has enough nuclear material for two bombs if further enriched.

"Are they so afraid of two bombs? There are 20,000 bombs stockpiled and they are so afraid of the possibility of the existence of two bombs? This is really amazing," he said.

"We have said that atomic bombs belong to governments which are politically retarded, those who lack logic. What is the use of those bombs?"

Iran maintains its uranium enrichment is for purely peaceful purposes like electricity and medicine.

Tehran has held no substantive talks with the West since October, when it backed away from a deal to send some of its low-enriched uranium abroad in exchange for the higher-enriched material it needs to fuel a medical research reactor.

In February it announced it had started enriching to that 20 percent level itself -- alarming those countries that fear the Islamic republic aims to make even purer, weapons grade material.

Ahmadinejad said Iran still wanted to do a fuel swap, based on a deal agreed in May with Turkey and Brazil which proved too little too late to fend off a new wave of sanctions.

"We preferred and we still prefer to get the 20 percent enriched fuel, to purchase it from the market," he said.

STOCKPILE

Whether Tehran is prepared to relinquish enough low-enriched uranium to reassure its critics would be key in any future talks. Western diplomats say the amounts agreed in October are no longer relevant as Iran has stockpiled much more since then.

Ahmadinejad said the amount of fuel included in a swap would "depend on our requirements." "We don't know why they insist so much on 'whatever you produce, give it to us'," he added.

He called on the major powers to "clarify" three things before talks could resume: their attitude to Israel's alleged nuclear arsenal, their stance on global nuclear disarmament and whether they come to the table as Iran's friend or its enemy.

Iran would be prepared to return to talks no earlier than the second half of the Muslim festival of Ramadan -- in late August, he said, calling this a delay to "punish" the West.

"Independent countries" that believe in "justice and respect" should join any future talks, he said -- possibly a reference to Turkey and Brazil which voted against U.N. sanctions.

The hardline president also warned that any inspections of its ships related to sanctions could provoke retaliation.

"If they make the slightest mistake we will definitely retaliate," Ahmadinejad said, without elaborating.

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