Iran tells UN atomic watchdog to avoid politics
TEHRAN, March 5 (Reuters) Iran today told the UN nuclear watchdog not to get led astray by political concerns at its board of governors meeting tomorrow as pressure mounts for action against Tehran's atomic programme.
Iran was reported to the UN Security Council last month after failing to convince the international community that its nuclear ambitions were entirely peaceful.
Tehran denies charges it is seeking nuclear arms and accuses its arch-foes the United States and Israel of making political capital out of suspicious elements in its atomic programme.
The Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, is waiting until after tomorrw's meeting of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) before deciding what action to take.
''We recommend that the IAEA should avoid getting political tomorrow and should just continue its expert, technical job,'' Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a news conference.
''Tomorrow will be a major test for the IAEA to show how it defends its members ... and its own credibility,'' he added.
But Iranian Vice-President Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of the country's atomic programme, told state television: ''IAEA reports are usually political and usually take advantage of the political atmosphere at the time''.
Since being reported to the Security Council, Iranian officials have held talks with Russia and the ''EU3'' of Britain, France and Germany but appear not to have struck an 11th-hour compromise.
An EU diplomat said the EU3 rejected Iran's offer of a two year moratorium on uranium enrichment. EU officials suggested a 10 year freeze, but the diplomat said Tehran rejected this.
French President Jacques Chirac said during a trip to Saudi Arabia that Iran still had the chance to heed EU calls.
''The hand remains extended and Iran can at any time take it, returning to its commitment to suspend sensitive activities,'' he said in a speech.
Small crowds have been gathering in the Iranian cities of Tehran, Shiraz, Yazd and Ahvaz to express support for the nuclear programme, the official IRNA news agency reported. It said the crowd in Shiraz was 2,000 strong.
REUTERS SY RN1722