Iran defiant, big powers seek progress on sanctions
PARIS, Dec 5 (Reuters) Six world powers were to meet in Paris today to try to break the deadlock over UN sanctions on Iran's nuclear programme, but Tehran said any denial of its rights would be seen as ''enmity''.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a rally that his country was in the final stages of its nuclear programme and suggested it would reconsider its dealings with three European states if they tried to block Iran achieving its atomic rights.
''If you insist on your path against the Iranian nation's right, the Iranian nation will count it as enmity against the Iranian nation and the Iranian nation will reconsider its relation to you,'' he said in an apparent reference to France, Britain and Germany which are party to the Paris negotiations.
The West suspects Iran is using its civilian nuclear programme as cover to build an atomic bomb but Tehran says its work is peaceful.
Senior diplomats from UN Security Council permanent members Russia, China, France, Britain and the United States, plus Germany, were due in Paris later for a new round of talks on Iran. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will also attend.
Russia has refused to agree to tough sanctions to punish Tehran's refusal to meet an August 31 UN deadline to abandon uranium enrichment, which can produce fuel for nuclear power plants or atom bombs.
US IMPATIENT Russia opposes an assets freeze and a travel ban on individual and groups involved in Iran's nuclear programme, putting it at loggerheads with the Europeans and an increasingly impatient United States.
''It's time for Russia and it is time for China to agree a sanctions resolution. We need to send a strong message,'' US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said in Brussels.
Moscow insists that Tehran's nuclear programme is not a proven threat to world peace, but Western countries disagree, citing Iran's 18-year concealment of nuclear enrichment technology that could be used to make fuel for atom bombs.
Diplomats say China, which like other permanent UN Security Council members can veto the council's resolutions, tends to follow Russia's lead on the Iran nuclear issue.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said after talking with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov yesterday that progress had been made on the wording of a sanctions resolution.
''I think that we can now reach an agreement on the text,'' he told reporters after meeting Lavrov on the sidelines of an Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe meeting.
''We are in agreement with Russia to adopt sanctions against the Iranian programme of proliferation.'' EU diplomats say the sanctions called for in the text will be largely symbolic but that unanimous approval of even mild sanctions will send a strong signal to Tehran that the world is determined to stop Iran obtaining nuclear arms.
REUTERS PDM HS1555