TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran scoffed at U.S. incentives aimed at coaxing the Islamic republic to drop its nuclear ambitions and declared Saturday that Washington’s overtures did nothing to change Tehran’s plans to push ahead with its nuclear program.

An Iranian envoy in Europe, however, acknowledged in guardedly positive terms that there appeared to be a “new awakening” in Washington.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said neither threats nor incentives would alter Iran’s determination to develop peaceful nuclear technology. Washington insists Tehran’s uranium enrichment program is designed to build a nuclear weapon, not merely to provide an alternative energy source.

Tehran issued its defiant response a day after the Bush administration softened its stance on how to thwart Iran’s nuclear development and agreed to support a European plan that offers economic incentives for Iran to give up any weapons ambitions.

The U.S. concessions, announced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, include an end to American opposition to Iran’s application for membership in the World Trade Organization and a partial lifting of the ban on sales of some spare parts for Iran’s civilian aircraft. Rice signaled that Iran should quickly accept — or face the threat of harsh United Nations Security Council sanctions.

Asefi said Rice’s offer was no offer at all.

“The restrictions on spare parts that have no military purpose should have not been imposed from the beginning, and lifting them is not an incentive,” state-run radio quoted Asefi as saying.

And, he said, “joining the WTO is an obvious right of any country in the world.”

Washington previously had insisted Iran deserved no reward for simply abiding by an international arms compact that forbids nuclear weapons development.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who was in Caracas, Venezuela, on a three-day visit, said his country is ready “to cooperate with the world to give more certainty that Iran is not moving toward the creation of nuclear arms” but insisted it has a right to nuclear technology.

“Now it is different than in the last century, when the great powers could have all (technology) exclusively,” said Khatami, who held talks with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and signed a series of commercial accords.

“We have to be strong to strike (back) … to defend ourselves from the dangers of those who want to invade us,” Khatami said, without elaborating.

State Department spokesman Lou Fintor said Saturday the United States concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

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