Ahmadinejad also said his country was not building a nuclear bomb and had no interest in doing so.

"Nuclear bombs belong to the 20th century. We are living in a new century," he said.

Western powers accuse Iran of attempting to develop nuclear weapons but Iran says its nuclear programme is solely for peaceful energy purposes.

Sanctions warning

The Iranian leader's comments came after the US took the unprecedented step in mid-July of sending a top diplomat to meet Iran's chief negotiator for nuclear talks in Geneva.

The interview also followed Ahmadinejad's announcement on Saturday that Iran had increased the number of its uranium-enriching centrifuges to 6,000 despite international calls for a halt to the programme.

The Bush administration has not ruled out military action against Iran [AFP]
After the meeting in Geneva on July 19, Western officials said that Tehran had two weeks to reply to an offer of a suspension of steps towards further United Nations sanctions imposed over the programme if Iran in turn froze the expansion of its nuclear programme.

"They submitted a package and we responded by submitting our own package," Ahmadinejad told NBC.

"It's very natural. In the first steps, we are going to negotiate over the common ground as they exist inside the two packages.

"If the two parties succeed in agreeing over the common ground, that will help us to work on our differences as well, to reach an agreement."

Iran has consistently refused to such a freeze or to suspend enrichment in order to begin negotiations on an incentives package proposed by the six powers involved in the talks - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

The US has warned Iran that it will face more sanctions if it fails to meet the deadline and the current US administration under George Bush, the US president, has not ruled out military action should talks fail.

Gonzalo Gallegos, a US state department spokesman, said Washington wanted a definitive response from Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, to Javier Solana, the West's designated negotiator and the European Union's foreign policy chief.

"We are waiting for a definitive statement. We have stated clearly that it should come through the normal channel, which is Jalili to Solana, and the clock on the two weeks is ticking."

Ahmadinejad said that Iran would not suspend its programme in order to win international acceptance since it already enjoys "very good economic and cultural relations with countries around the world".

"We do not need the services, if I can use the word, of a few countries," he said.