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Iran opposition figure says stop atomic enrichment

Written by: Staff

Tehran, May 11: A leading Iranian opposition politician said Tehran should scrap uranium enrichment to avoid dragging itself deeper into a nuclear crisis and should not rely on China or Russia to veto any UN action on the Islamic state.

Ebrahim Yazdi, head of the banned Freedom Movement, also said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in no position to sermonise George W Bush in his letter to the US president.

Yazdi told Reuters in an interview yesterday that China and Russia, which both have energy interests in Iran, would not jeopardise their economic or other ties with the United States if Iran refused to back down from enriching uranium.

''If Iran insists on its stand, we are afraid that the Russians and the Chinese would give up the resistance to the United States and then there would be a consensus on how to treat Iran,'' he said.

Iran is entitled to enrich uranium, but should look to national interests before a point of principle, Yazdi said.

''Iran has the right to pursue that (enrichment), but the national interests dictate that Iran should stop it,'' he said.

Iran has been hauled before the UN Security Council for failing to convince the world that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful. But a US-backed resolution obliging Iran to stop enriching uranium has met with resistance from Russia and China.

Yazdi, who was a close aide to the Islamic revolution's founding father Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and was foreign minister in the first post-revolutionary government, is an important opposition voice in Iran but has no influence at all on state policy and limited popular support in the country.

Unusual Criticism

Criticism of Iran's nuclear policy is unusual although not unheard of. Iran's media give almost no space to debate on alternative approaches to the atomic programme.

Officials insist the country is united on the programme, which is a source of pride for many in Iran.

But Yazdi said enriching uranium for nuclear fuel was pointless when Iran still had no working atomic power station. Iran's first reactor is under construction, with Russian help.

''What is Iran going to do with this (nuclear fuel)? Can it sell it in the free market? I don't think so,'' he said.

He said Iran should accept a Russian offer to enrich uranium on Russian soil to avoid possible sanctions or even US military strikes, a move Washington has refused to rule out.

Long-running talks on the Russian plan have foundered because Iran says it wants some enrichment at home, a demand the West says is unacceptable.

Ahmadinejad briefly raised hopes this week that Iran might offer new ideas to end the standoff in a letter to Bush, the first by an Iranian president to his US counterpart since Washington cut ties with Iran in 1980.

But the letter was dismissed by Washington for not offering proposals on the atomic issue. Instead, it listed US foreign policy errors and said Western-style democracy had ''failed''.

''I can also list a number of other vices of American society, but at the same time I can say, 'Mr Ahmadinejad, are you acting in accordance with the Holy Koran? In Iran people are being jailed because of expression of opinion. Is that in accordance with the Koran?''' Yazdi said.

Yazdi worked closely with Khomeini to topple the last shah of Iran, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, in 1979. But they fell out as the revolution took on an increasingly Islamist flavour.


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