Iran rejects UN demand for halt to enrichment
BERLIN, Mar 30: Iran today rejected a UN Security Council demand that it halt uranium enrichment to reassure the world that its nuclear programme is peaceful.
''We will not, definitely, suspend again the enrichment,'' Iran's ambassador to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Aliasghar Soltaniyeh, told Reuters.
Soltaniyeh spoke as Germany and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council were meeting in Berlin to discuss their next steps on Iran, with Russia and China seeking assurances that force would not be used.
After the talks, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the participants had agreed Iran must heed the UN demand to halt enrichment, adding that the international community still sought a diplomatic solution to the stand-off.
Yesterday, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted a ''presidential statement'' calling on Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment work, which can produce fuel for power plants or atom bombs. It also asked the UN nuclear watchdog in Vienna to report in 30 days on Iranian cooperation with agency demands.
Oil held above 66 dollars a barrel, in sight of its 70 dollars record, after the UN statement. ''There's got to be a crunch point over Iran,'' said oil analyst Geoff Pyne. ''At the end of the day Iran is intent on uranium enrichment and the West won't allow it.'' The council statement was the product of three weeks of negotiations among the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council -- Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States. The final text was softened to remove language Moscow and Beijing feared could lead to punitive measures.
Germany and the five big powers had agreed on January 31 to report Iran to the Security Council over its nuclear activities.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, speaking at the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament, said that decision was evidence of ''political manoeuvring by some Western countries''.
Mottaki said the IAEA should be left to handle the dossier and criticised the council's demand for a report from the UN nuclear watchdog on Iranian compliance in 30 days as ''nothing short of injustice, double standards and power politics''.
The Islamic republic says it only wants civilian nuclear power, not atomic bombs as the West believes.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said neither Moscow nor Beijing would tolerate the use of force against Iran. ''Any ideas of resolving the matter by compulsion and force are extremely counter-productive,'' Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.
DIPLOMATIC SOLUTION China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Beijing believed a diplomatic solution remained possible.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters en route to Berlin that the world must keep up pressure on Iran.
''The presidential statement is an international voice to the Iranians that they need to suspend their (uranium enrichment) activities, return to negotiations and that they continue to be isolated,'' said Rice.
She urged the other permanent council members and Germany to take into account Iran's calls for Israel to be ''wiped off the map'', as well as its support for Syria and Hizbollah in Lebanon.
An EU diplomat said before the talks that participants would discuss a strategy outlined in a letter sent by senior British diplomat John Sawers to his Western counterparts this month.
Sawers said the non-binding presidential statement should be followed by a binding resolution based on Chapter VII of the UN charter, which deals with ''action with respect to threats to peace''. Adoption of such a resolution would make compliance enforceable with economic sanctions or other measures.
Iran's decision to resume uranium enrichment in January prompted Britain, France and Germany to break off 2-1/2 years of EU talks with Iran and to back a US demand to refer the Iranian nuclear dossier to the Security Council.
The EU trio has offered to resume talks with Iran on condition that it re-suspend all enrichment-related activities.