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Iran Threatens to Hide Nuke Program, Share Technology

A defiant and threatening Iran said Tuesday it would hide its nuclear program if the West took "harsh measures" after this week's U.N. Security Council deadline for Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment.

Beyond that, Iran openly offered to transfer nuclear technology to other countries, including chaos-ridden Sudan.

Ali Larijani, the top Iranian nuclear negotiator, also renewed the country's vow to end cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and said increasing pressure on Iran would only stiffen its resolve.

"If you take harsh measures, we will hide this program. If you use the language of force, you should not expect us to act transparently," Larijani said, adding that western countries on the IAEA board "have to understand they cannot resolve this issue through force."

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who was visiting Greece and Turkey, fired back almost immediately.

"Iranians can threaten, but they are deepening their own isolation," she said.

Top leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued the offer to transfer nuclear technology as he met with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

"Iran's nuclear capability is one example of various scientific capabilities in the country. ... The Islamic Republic of Iran is prepared to transfer the experience, knowledge and technology of its scientists," Khamenei told al-Bashir.

Al-Bashir said last month that his impoverished, violence-ridden country was considering a nuclear program to generate electrical power.

Such a technology transfer would be legal as long as it is between signatory-states to the nonproliferation treaty, and the IAEA was informed.

Word of the transfer offer became public by the time Rice reached Ankara, Turkey, prompting her to respond yet again.

We "have to be concerned when there are statements from Iran that Iran would not only have this technology, but would share it, share technology and expertise," Rice told a news conference.

The former Iranian Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi, meanwhile, said U.S. and Israeli spies, in a bid to entrap Tehran, had tried to sell it enriched uranium but the offers were rejected. He did not say when the alleged attempts were made.

"The U.S. and Israeli intelligence agencies repeatedly tried discredit Iran but failed to succeed. They repeatedly sent spies with the intention with selling enriched uranium to Iran and then to start a campaign against us.

"They got no reply thanks to the vigilance of our intelligence community," he said Tuesday.

With the approaching Friday U.N. deadline, Iran has become more defiant almost daily.

"If U.N. Security Council sanctions are to be imposed on Iran, we will definitely suspend our cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency," Larijani said, echoing the words of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad only a day earlier.

Iran's defiant stance appeared to stem in part from opposition to sanctions by Russia and China, both permanent, veto-holding members of the Security Council.

"We see no alternative to the negotiations process," Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency while in Beijing for a regional anti-terrorism meeting.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang urged all parties "to show flexibility," saying the international community should not abandon efforts for a peaceful settlement.

The United States has not openly threatened military action and says it wants a diplomatic solution as well, but U.S. President George W. Bush has said all options, including military force, remain on the table.

Britain, meanwhile, also warned Iran against miscalculating its moves.

"The Iranians, in my judgment, would miscalculate if they believed that Russia or China would block appropriate and effective sanctions, which targeted the regime, not the ordinary population," Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said.

Iran's tough talk Tuesday appeared to be the strongest public defiance so far with only two days remaining for it to meet the Security Council's demand that it suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors or warheads.

On Monday, Ahmadinejad boldly predicted the council would not impose sanctions and warned he was thinking about dropping out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Larijani emphasized that stance Tuesday, saying without question Iran would ignore the demand.

"If you take the first step wrong, the wrong trend will continue. We welcome any logical proposal to resolve the issue. They just need to say why should we suspend," Larijani said.

The IAEA said it would not issue any public statements ahead of director Mohamed ElBaradei's report to the Security Council and the agency's board, expected by week's end.

The United States and European allies are expected to press for binding measures against Iran when the Security Council begins the next round of review of the Iranian case as soon as next week.

Although Rice has recently raised the likelihood of pressing for sanctions, she did not go that far Tuesday when taking questions after a meeting with her Greek counterpart, saying only that the Security Council must now issue something more concrete than last month's "presidential statement," which gave Iran 30 days to comply.

Larajani said sanctions or even more coercive language might force Iran to speed up its nuclear programs and said punishing Iran did not make sense.

"How are you going to prevent our nuclear activities by imposing sanctions?" he asked.

"You can't set a framework through coercion. If you try to do it by force, our response will be to break such a framework," he said.

The United States, Britain and France say they have suspicions that Iran is seeking to make nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge and says its nuclear program is for peaceful electricity generation only.

Western concerns have built since 2002 when Iran was discovered to have secretly operated large-scale nuclear activities for two decades.

The IAEA says it has since found no direct evidence of an arms program, but it also says the Iranians have not been fully forthcoming.

After repeated attempts at negotiations, the IAEA reported Iran to the Security Council for noncompliance. The council then gave Iran until Friday to suspend enrichment.