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Iran seems to back off from U.S. talks


 Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei makes a speech to a group of air force members in Tehran, Iran.
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Date published: 2/8/2013

BY NASSER KARIMI

Associated Press

TEHRAN, Iran

--American proposals for direct talks with Iran are pointless while Washington is "holding a gun" to the country through sanctions, Iran's supreme leader said Thursday, quashing a possible breakthrough in contacts with the West over the nuclear standoff.

The message from Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was reiterated by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during a news conference in Cairo later in the day.

Their dismissal of one-on-one dialogue raises the stakes when wider negotiations between Iran and world powers, including the United States, resume this month.

Another dead-end round --after three stalemated sessions last year--could fuel accusations by Israel and others that Iran is using the talks as a stalling tactic while it gets closer to having the capabilities to build a nuclear weapon.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that the world has until this summer--at the latest--to keep Iran from building a bomb. He's hinted that Israel could attack unilaterally if all other efforts fail.

Iran denies it seeks atomic arms, saying its nuclear fuel is only for energy-producing reactors and medical applications. Iran officials have frequently called attention to a religious edict by Khamenei that says nuclear arms are contrary to Islamic beliefs.

"Talks are held to arrive at an understanding, not to impose anything," Ahmadinejad said. "Such talks will be meaningless if someone raises a club and imposes" something on Iran, he added.