Iran Rejects European Nuke Proposal

Iran (search) rejected Europe's proposal for ending the standoff over Tehran's nuclear program, saying Saturday it was "unacceptable" because it did not give the country the right to enrich uranium.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi (search) said the package of incentives offered fell short of Iran's "minimum expectations" and the government would send its official rejection to the Europeans later Saturday or Sunday.

"The European proposals are unacceptable ... the package is against the spirit of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and against the provisions of the Paris agreement," he said on state radio. "The proposals do not meet Iran's minimum expectations."

The Paris Agreement (search) was reached between Iran and Britain, France and Germany — the three European countries negotiating on behalf of the 25-member European Union. Under the deal, signed in November in Paris, Iran agreed to continue suspension of uranium enrichment and all related activities, including uranium conversion, until negotiations proceed for a political settlement.

Enriched uranium can be used in the production of nuclear energy or nuclear weapons.

Iran has accused the Europeans of wasting time, saying continued suspension depended on progress in the talks. Tehran says failure to make progress in talks does not prevent it from reopening the Isfahan uranium conversion facility.

The French, British and German foreign ministries declined to comment until they had received and studied Iran's response, spokesmen said.

Asefi said the primary reason for Iran's rejection was the European failure to include Tehran's right to enrich uranium.

"We had already announced that any plan has to recognize Iran's right to enrich uranium," he said.

New Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared Saturday that his foreign policy would focus on good relations with the rest of the world, but he rejected outside pressure on his government to change course — an apparent reference to the growing international confrontation over Iran's nuclear program.

Without directly mentioning the controversy, Ahmadinejad said his government respected international norms but "would not follow illegal decisions that violate rights of the Iranian nation."

"I don't know why some countries do not want to understand the fact that the Iranian people do not tolerate force," Ahmadinejad said.

On Friday, the Europeans sought to entice Iran into a binding commitment not to build atomic arms by offering to provide fuel and other long-term support to help Iranians generate electricity with nuclear energy.

The proposal did not mention the previous agreement that allowed Iran to enrich uranium. Iran also insists it has a right to enrich uranium under the treaty.

The Bush administration backed the European offer, which came as a diplomatic effort to persuade North Korea into giving up its atomic weapons program stalled.

The European proposal offered greater economic, political and security cooperation if Iran agreed to the plan.

Iran has long claimed its nuclear program was solely for the peaceful production of electricity, even though it has vast oil reserves. Washington charged the real aim was to produce arms. The discovery of clandestine aspects of Iran's program raised worries among other nations and pressure had mounted on Iran.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said it would hold an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss safeguards in Iran. The agency has repeatedly warned Iran not to resume uranium conversion at its facility at Isfahan until an IAEA monitoring system is in place.

The facility converts raw uranium, known as yellow cake, into a gas that is the feedstock for enrichment. The IAEA board could refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for consideration of sanctions.

Asefi said the meeting will have no legal justification.

"It's to bring political pressure on Iran. It's a psychological war," he said.

A summary of the EU proposal said the Europeans acknowledged Iran's right to nuclear energy and promised to help it develop "a safe, economically viable and proliferation-proof civil nuclear power generation and research program."

The 34-page proposal promised Iran a long-term supply of enriched uranium from other countries, on condition that spent fuel was returned. Iran also could buy peaceful nuclear technology, opening the door to such deals as Russia's $800-million contract to build a reactor in the southern Iranian port city of Bushehr and supply fuel.

In return, the Europeans called on Iran to make a "legally binding commitment not to withdraw" from the nuclear treaty, as North Korea did, and to agree to permit surprise inspections by the IAEA and abandon all uranium activities, including conversion, enrichment and reprocessing.

The EU nations also say Iran must stop construction of its heavy water research reactor in the city of Arak. Nuclear experts consider heavy water reactors a danger because they use higher-grade plutonium suitable for weapons use.

They say the Arak reactor can yield enough plutonium from spent fuel to make one atomic bomb a year.