US rejects Ahmadinejad comment on nuclear program

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NEW YORK, Sep 26 (Reuters) The United States rejected today Iran's claim that its nuclear program is a ''closed'' matter and said it would keep pushing for fresh UN Security Council sanctions that are resisted by China and Russia.

The West accuses Iran of seeking to develop atomic weapons under the cover of a civil nuclear program. Iran denies this, saying its program is to produce power so that it can export more of its valuable gas and oil.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said yesterday the issue of his country's nuclear ambitions was ''closed'' and a matter to be handled by the UN watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

''The case is not closed,'' US Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters, adding that major powers would meet TOday night to discuss fresh UN Security Council sanctions against Iran.

''He is completely mistaken and the international community is not going to allow him to forget about the fact that his country is operating against the wishes of the Security Council,'' he added The Security Council has demanded that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment, a process that can produce material for nuclear weapons, and has imposed two sanctions resolutions against Tehran for its failure to do so.

Iran agreed with the IAEA on August 21 that it would explain the scope of its nuclear program.

The pact allows Iran to settle questions one by one over a period the IAEA says will run to December -- even as Iran adds centrifuges to its Natanz enrichment plant, nearing the 3,000 needed to start producing usable quantities of nuclear fuel.

Western powers have cast doubt on the deal, saying it allows Tehran to string out answers to questions about past, hidden nuclear work while maintaining its enrichment program.

'IRANIAN HEGEMONY' The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is deeply unsettling to the United States, which accuses Tehran of sponsoring terrorism, and to Arab nations who fear Iran aims to dominate the region.

Officials from the Gulf Cooperation Council -- which groups Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates -- as well as from Egypt and Jordan voiced concerns about this in talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and said they need arms to counter such a threat.

''They have defense needs,'' said a US official who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly. ''They are not going to succumb to Iranian hegemony and in order to be able to do that they need the wherewithal.'' If Iran were to suspend uranium enrichment, the United States has offered join talks with Tehran led by the so-called EU3 -- Britain, France and Germany.

''With the failure of the Iranian government ... to accept that offer, we have no other alternative but to continue the sanctions and I have not see a lessening of commitment on the part of the majority of our partners,'' Burns said.

Burns did not address directly the misgivings that China and Russia have about passing a third sanctions resolution now but said it would be ''some time'' before agreement on a fresh resolution might be reached.

The political directors of Germany and the five permanent UN Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- are scheduled to discuss a third resolution over dinner on Wednesday. They also plan to meet Thursday ahead of a P5+1 ministerial meeting on Friday.

IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei has stressed Iran's file is not closed and will not be even if it resolves outstanding questions since they only deal with past Iranian secrecy.

He has said the IAEA will be unable to declare Iran's current programme is wholly peaceful before Tehran grants wider inspections aimed at verifying there is no nuclear activity at undeclared sites.

Reuters KK VP0122

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