Germany says burden of nuclear proof on Iran

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UNITED NATIONS, Sep 26 (Reuters) German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Iran had to convince the world it was not working on a nuclear weapon or she would support stiffer sanctions against Tehran.

''Let us not fool ourselves,'' Merkel told the UN General Assembly. ''If Iran were to acquire the nuclear bomb, the consequences would be disastrous -- first and foremost for the existence of Israel, secondly for the entire region and ultimately for all of us in Europe and the world.

''Therefore we have to prevent Iran ever coming into possession of one,'' she said yesterday.

''Germany will firmly advocate additional harsher sanctions -- if Iran does not comply,'' Merkel said.

The United States, Britain and France have called for a third round of UN Security Council sanctions because Tehran has refused to suspend uranium enrichment programs.

But Germany, Iran's biggest European trade partner, has been hesitant after Iran agreed with the International Atomic Energy Agency on August 21 to explain the scope of its nuclear program.

Tehran insists its program is to master technology to generate power for civilian purposes while Western nations believe it is a cover for bomb making.

The agreement allows Iran to settle questions one by one over a timeline the IAEA says would run to December -- even as it adds centrifuges to its Natanz enrichment plant, nearing the 3,000 needed to start producing usable quantities of nuclear fuel.

But Merkel said the burden of proof was on Tehran.

''The world does not have to prove that Iran is not building an atom bomb,'' Merkel said. ''Iran has to convince the world that it is doesn't want an atomic bomb.'' Diplomats say Berlin has so far sought to delay drafting any sanctions resolution until after IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei gives a progress report to the agency's board of governors in November.

France's President Nicholas Sarkozy has suggested the European Union turn up the heat on Iran with its own sanctions if negotiations stall at the United Nations. Russia and China, permanent Security Council members with veto power, have not supported further UN punitive measures so far.

Merkel did not mention the idea of EU sanctions. The German magazine Der Spiegel reported on Saturday that Berlin opposed the French idea.

Reuters KK VP0605

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