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Iran vows no u-turn on nuclear enrichment work

Written by: Staff

TEHRAN, Apr 23 (Reuters) Iran said today it would not abandon its work on uranium enrichment, which the United Nations has demanded it halt, and was prepared to face the consequences.

''Iran's uranium enrichment and nuclear research and development activities are irreversible,'' Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a weekly news conference.

Western nations have threatened to press for international sanctions on Iran if it does not heed calls to stop enrichment.

The United States has said it wants a diplomatic resolution to the standoff but has not ruled out military action, a step other Western states, as well as Russia and China, oppose.

Today, France repeated its opposition to using force but said it was ''extremely concerned'' by Iran's latest statement.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is due to report by an April 28 deadline on whether Iran is complying with a U.N. demand that it halt enrichment, a process Western nations fear could be used to develop atomic weapons.

Iran announced this month that it had enriched uranium for the first time to a level used in power stations but insists its nuclear programme is purely civilian.

''If the (IAEA) report contains expert assessment, there will be nothing left to worry about,'' Asefi said.

''However, if the report comes out and somehow puts pressure on Iran or speaks with a language of threats, naturally Iran will not abandon its rights and it is prepared for all possible situations and has planned for them,'' he said.

STOKING WORRIES French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told a Paris radio station Radio J that he was worried by Iran's latest statement but said a military option was ''not topical''.

''When I see this declaration today that tells us that the enrichment is irreversible, we are extremely concerned,'' he said, adding that France would keep pressing for a diplomatic solution and did not rule out a change of tack by the Iranians.

Iran has stoked worries in the West by saying it is pressing ahead with research and development on advanced P-2 centrifuges, which can enrich uranium faster than its existing P-1 units.

''So far, we have never used P-2 centrifuges, and what we have used is P-1 machines. We have informed the agency (IAEA) about that,'' Asefi said.

He also said Iran was still discussing a Russian plan to enrich uranium on Russian soil. Iran said in February it had a ''basic agreement'' on joint enrichment but talks appeared to stall after that because of Iran's refusal to scrap home-grown enrichment.

''The Russian plan is still on the table but the ground for its implementation should be prepared,'' Asefi said. ''Russia's plan and other plans that will preserve our rights can be assessed.'' REUTERS SRS PM1822

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