Iran Defiant Ahead of IAEA Meeting

Published March 08, 2006

| Associated Press

Iran's president said Wednesday his country will not back down from plans to enrich uranium, as 35 nations in Vienna focused on Tehran's nuclear file — the last step before the U.N. Security Council takes up the issue.

"Our nation has made its decision to fully use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and all have to give in to this decision made by the Iranian nation," said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in western Iran. "We have made our choice."

His comments — and U.S. and Russian statements the day before rejecting any compromise that would allow Tehran to enrich uranium domestically — set the stage for Security Council action once the 35-nation board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency hears a report on Iran's nuclear program and debates the issue.

Washington warned Tuesday of "meaningful consequences" if Iran does not back away from an international confrontation over its nuclear program. It also rejected any potential last-minute compromise to allow Iran to develop nuclear fuel that could be used for weapons.

A senior Western diplomat familiar with the Security Council negotiations said Tuesday that permanent council members Britain and France already were preparing a statement "urging" Iran to re-impose a freeze on all enrichment, which can be misused to make nuclear arms.

The diplomat, who demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing strategy on Iran, said the statement also would call on Iran to fully cooperate with IAEA inspectors trying to establish whether the country had ever tried to make such weapons — all requests made earlier by the board.

Still, stronger action may elude the council. Russia and China, which have Security Council vetoes, may use them to foil any resolution in that chamber that would meaningfully increase pressure on Iran, their political and economic ally.

A Russian plan that surfaced last year and is backed by the Americans and the European Union, would strip the Iranians of all enrichment potential at home in hopes that would prevent the program from being misused for nuclear arms.

A recently discussed proposal carried to Washington Monday by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would have allowed the Iranians to conduct yet-to-be-defined "research and development" activities — including operating 20 uranium-enriching centrifuges. But that compromise appeared dead in the water by Tuesday due to strong American opposition and Iranian rejection.

A senior diplomat accredited to the Vienna meeting suggested that a compromise still may be reached, saying South Africa, a strong backer of Iran's right to enrich for peaceful purposes, was increasingly involved in trying to find a negotiated solution.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing also appealed for more negotiations, suggesting the Security Council's involvement was not needed. "Iran should cooperate closely with the IAEA to settle the nuclear dispute," Li said.

The Americans remained unconvinced. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said in Washington that "unless Iran does a dramatic about face," he expected the Security Council to take up the issue.

Talks between Iran and France, Britain and Germany collapsed last year after Tehran resumed enrichment-related activities, which can produce both nuclear fuel and the fissile core of warheads. Since then, the three European powers, along with the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan, have pushed for Security Council involvement.

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