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Iran rejects demands to abandon uranium enrichment

By Staff
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TEHRAN, Apr 29 (Reuters) Iran today refused to stop uranium enrichment after a UN report said it had done little or nothing to prove it was not developing nuclear weapons.

Instead, it repeated a long-standing offer to let international inspectors make unannounced checks as long as the UN Security Council -- invoked by the West several months ago to put pressure on Iran -- dropped the case.

Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), delivered a report yesterday saying UN checks in Iran had been hampered and Tehran had rebuffed requests to stop making nuclear fuel.

Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, told state television that Iran wanted the Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, to pass the case back down to the IAEA.

''If the case returns to the agency (IAEA) again, we will begin the section that concerns the Additional Protocol,'' Saeedi said.

The Additional Protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty allows short-notice inspections of nuclear facilities.

''The enrichment will continue. But ... we will continue implementing the Additional Protocol as a voluntary measure,'' Saeedi added.

''If they change their decision and choose the wise path, and the case returns to the IAEA, we believe we can solve all the issues mentioned in ElBaradei's eight-page report very quickly.'' Iran insists that it is merely using its sovereign right to enrich uranium at a low level to use as fuel in power stations -- and not aiming for the highly enriched form that could power a warhead.

The major world powers say it must first prove, after years of conducting illicit nuclear research in secret, that it is not developing a nuclear bomb -- and that it can only do this by suspending all nuclear enrichment.

ElBaradei's report said the IAEA was ''unable to make progress in its efforts to provide assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran''.

''The existing gaps in knowledge continue to be a matter of concern,'' it added. ''Any progress in that regard requires full transparency and active cooperation by Iran. These transparency measures are not yet forthcoming.'' Western diplomats at the United Nations in New York have said they plan to introduce a resolution to the Security Council within a week giving legal force to the Council's demands.

The United States, backed by Britain and France, support limited sanctions but the other two veto-wielding permanent Council members, Russia and China, are more guarded.

The foreign ministers of the five permanent members will meet, along with Germany, on May 9, the United States said yesterday.

An EU diplomat in Vienna dismissed Saeedi's suggestion of returning to the situation that existed before Western powers carried out their threat to go to the Security Council.

''The international community has made very clear what steps Iran is required to take: they are a full suspension of all enrichment-related activity and provision of transparency that is overdue and essential,'' he said.

But China's ambassador to the United Nations, Wang Guangya, told the the official Xinhua News Agency in New York yesterday that consideration of sanctions or military measures would not help to resolve the issue.

He said the international community and the Security Council must establish a ''better means to defuse the current crisis''.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reiterated that Iran would never give up its right to peaceful atomic technology.

''That is our red line, and we will never cross it,'' he said in the northwestern city of Zanjan, according to state television.

REUTERS PG HS1715

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