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Gates: Iran's response on nuclear program 'disappointing'

ANKARA, Turkey - Defense Secretary Robert Gates yesterday played down assertions by Iran that it was ready to reach a deal over its nuclear program, saying Tehran's overall response to overtures from the Obama administration had been "quite disappointing."

In a speech at a security conference in Munich on Friday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said his country was "nearing a final agreement that can be accepted by all parties."

His statement came three days after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad signaled Iran was prepared to accept a deal offered by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, under which Tehran would hand over a stockpile of uranium for processing outside the country. In exchange, Iran would receive enriched fuel that would enable it to power a reactor for medical research, but not make bombs.

During a visit to the Turkish capital of Ankara, Gates did not completely dismiss the Iranian statements but expressed skepticism about their sincerity. "The reality is that they have done nothing to reassure the international community that they are prepared to . . . stop their progress toward making a nuclear weapon," Gates said.

Other U.S. and European officials have also voiced doubts, calling Iran's negotiating tactics a bid to buy time while it continues to attempt to build a nuclear arsenal.

"If it's not more than we heard yesterday, then I have to say unfortunately this is not a new transparency," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in Munich yesterday.

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