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Iran Won't Stop Nuke Program; Warns U.S.

Iran (search) said Saturday it will never agree to a permanent halt on enriching uranium and warned that a more unstable Middle East would result from a U.S.-backed effort to haul Tehran before the U.N. Security Council (search) for possible sanctions.

Any effort by Washington to bring Tehran's suspended uranium enrichment (search) program under Security Council (search) scrutiny is a dangerous path, warned Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Hasan Rowhani.

Speaking during a two-day international conference on nuclear technology, Rowhani said Iran will halt negotiations and resume uranium enrichment "without any hesitation" if European negotiators insist Iran make its temporary suspension of uranium enrichment permanent.

"Americans and Europeans will be the first to lose in that case," he told more than 50 nuclear scientists and experts attending the Tehran conference. "It will cause problems for regional energy and for the European economy.

"And it will cause additional problems for America. Therefore, no one will benefit from this. It's playing with fire."

Iran suspended its uranium enrichment activities last year to create confidence in its negotiations and avoid Security Council referral. But Tehran says the voluntary freeze depends on progress in ongoing talks with the European Union.

Rowhani said Tehran will call off the talks entirely if it sees no signs of progress by the time a committee of Iranian and European negotiators meets March 17-18.

"If there is no tangible progress, we won't continue the talks," he said.

Britain, France and Germany are trying to secure an Iranian commitment to scrap enrichment plans in exchange for economic aid, technical support and backing for Tehran's efforts to join mainstream international organizations.

Iran has suspended enrichment-related activities during those talks, which both sides have said were difficult, but insists the freeze will be brief.

Washington accuses Tehran of covertly trying to build a nuclear bomb, which Iran denies.

Rowhani suggested that if EU negotiators succumb to U.S. pressure for a harder line, the negotiations will fail. Europe's prowess as an intermediary in international crises will suffer, he said.

"If there is no U.S. pressure, we will reach a compromise with Europeans in the near future," Rowhani said. "Europeans are not seeking a permanent halt to our peaceful nuclear program and denying the Iranian nation of its rights."

Bush has recently expressed support for the European efforts. But documents circulated among board members of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency last week indicated Washington would try to increase pressure on Tehran by the next agency board meeting in June should the European talks fail.