Iran cleric wants US "apology" after IAEA report

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TEHRAN, Nov 16 (Reuters) A senior Iranian cleric said the United States should apologise to the Islamic Republic after the UN nuclear watchdog released a report which Tehran said showed it had been telling the truth about its atomic plans.

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, a conservative member of an influential clerical body, said Iran would not back down ''even one iota from defending its basic rights'' in pursuing nuclear energy -- echoing frequent statements by Iran's hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

''America must apologise to the great Iranian nation for lying to the world's public opinion,'' Khatami told Friday worshippers in a sermon broadcast live on state radio.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in its report yesterday that Iran had made important strides towards clarifying past nuclear activities.

But the Vienna-based UN body also said key questions remained unresolved and that Iran had significantly expanded uranium enrichment, a process to make fuel for power plants that can also provide material for nuclear bombs.

Iran says it only wants electricity from atomic energy.

The United States, which is leading efforts to isolate Iran, said Tehran continued to provide ''partial answers'' about its nuclear work and Washington would push for more UN sanctions. Two sanctions resolutions have already been passed.

Iranian officials said the country had been vindicated in the report and that further discussion at the UN Security Council about the nuclear dispute would have no legal basis.

In August, Iran agreed with the UN agency to clear up questions about its programme in order to allay any doubts, but it has refused to suspend its most sensitive activities.

Khatami said the IAEA report had confirmed ''the facts that Iran was stressing during the past four years'', but that it also contained inaccuracies. ''This was a relative victory because some parts (of the report) are still incorrect,'' he said.

The UN Security Council should now return the case to the IAEA, he said, adding, without elaborating, that the door would remain open for ''fair and rational negotiations''.

REUTERS ARB BD1630

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