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Concerns Mount in Europe Over Mixed Messages From Iran

Iran said it is ready to begin negotiations over its nuclear program. But it continued to anger the West by firing test missiles over the Persian Gulf on Wednesday, July 9.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Ahmadinejad insists that Iran's nuclear program is not up for negotiation

Europe's foreign policy chief Javier Solana will likely travel to Iran later this month in an attempt to clarify Iran's nuclear intentions. But Iran's recent displays of military force could further complicate what were already expected to be tricky talks.

On Wednesday, the German government accused Tehran of "saber rattling" after the country fired nine missiles over the Gulf during a military exercise. Germany noted the tests "with concern" as the missiles are suitable for carrying nuclear warheads. The missiles reportedly have a range of up to 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles), making them capable of hitting targets in Israel.

Iran said the tests should not be viewed as an act of aggression.

Missile test in the central desert area of Iran

Iran told to refrain from "saber rattling"

"Our missile capacity is just for defensive purposes and not supposed to threaten any country but for safeguarding peace in Iran and the (Persian Gulf) region," Mostafa Mohammad-Najar told state television.

Solana traveled to Tehran in June with an offer of technological and economic incentives in exchange for Iran agreeing to suspend its uranium enrichment.

Tehran responded to that overture with "a gesture of ill will," Steg said, according to the DPA news agency.

Yet Germany, along with other leaders at the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Japan, said they had not given up on a negotiated solution to the crisis.

Ready to negotiate

Despite the missile tests, Iran insists that it is ready to meet with Solana. On Friday, Iran sent a proposal which has not been made public to the group of six nations - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - who had offered the incentive package last month.

"Talks will start in the next few days and at that time many issues will become clear," said Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. "Our diplomacy is based on negotiations."

Iran's Fars News Agency reported that the talks would start on July 19, without citing a source.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana

Solana has been chosen as an envoy to Iran

Yet European leaders seemed to be hedging their bets this week. Iran has made no promise that it will suspend nuclear enrichment, which was the basis for any negotiations.

"The fact that there is no mention of suspending sensitive activities is clearly an issue," France's foreign ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier said in Paris.

The West worries that Iran wants to enrich uranium to make material for nuclear weapons. The oil-rich country insists it wants the technology to provide fuel for power plants.

War of words continues

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly insisted that Iran will not give up its right to a nuclear program.

"No one in Iran will go back from our nuclear position," Ahmadinejad said Tuesday. "We want dialogue for the benefit of all sides but within the framework of law and justice."

An Iranian technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility

Iran is under sanctions for refusing to halt uranium enrichment

He also promised swift retaliation in the case that the US or Israel were to attack Iran in an attempt to stop its nuclear program. An aide to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei added that Iran would not hesitate to "set fire" to Israel and the US navy in the Gulf if attacked.

"The first US shot on Iran would set the United States' vital interests in the world on fire," said Ali Shirazi, a mid-ranking cleric who is Khamenei's representative to the naval forces of the elite Revolutionary Guards.

"Tel Aviv and the US fleet in the Persian Gulf would be the targets that would be set on fire in Iran's crushing response," he said, according to the Fars news agency.

Iran has repeatedly warned of a crushing response to any aggression against its soil, but more specific warnings are unusual.

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