Odishatv Bureau

Munich: Iran today responded positively to US Vice President Joe Biden's offer to hold direct negotiations with the authorities in Teheran over the country's contested nuclear programme, but demanded the West to stop building up pressure on the country.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akhbar Salehi, who was eagerly awaited at the 49th Munich Security Conference, welcomed Biden's statement as "positive" and as a "step forward".

However, he repeated his country's position that it will be prepared for negotiations with the US only when they take place on an "equal basis".

"Unfortunately, every time we have negotiated, it was the other side which did not adhere to its commitments," Salehi told around 400 delegates on the final day of the three-day conference.

Addressing the conference yesterday, Biden said the Obama administration is prepared to hold direct negotiations with Iran to end the stand-off over its nuclear programme if the Iranian leadership takes them seriously.

"There is still time for diplomacy, but it has to be successful. The ball is now in Iran's court," Biden said.

Participating in a panel discussion, Salehi said that the next opportunity for dialogue on Iran's nuclear programme will come on February 25 when the so-called "P5+1" group involving the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany hold their meeting in Kazakhstan on February 25.

He rejected claims that Iran is secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons programme and it is hiding vital information from the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

He insisted that the IAEA has not so far confirmed that Iran is pursuing a nuclear programme for military purposes and "those who accuse the country must provide the evidence to support their charges."

Iran has answered questions on all six outstanding issues submitted by the IAEA and it is optimistic that the dispute can be fully resolved in the coming months, he said.

The Iranian Foreign Minister demanded the West to stop pressurising his country and to refrain from "making threats" ahead of negotiations.