TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's foreign minister reiterated Tuesday that his country will never again suspend uranium enrichment, dismissing the threat of further United Nations sanctions.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was speaking a day after the U.S., the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany considered measures to punish Iran for refusing to suspend enrichment, including the possibility of more sanctions.
"Demands that Iran halt enrichment are illegal and illegitimate and based on an incorrect political strategy. This (suspension) will never materialize," the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Mottaki as saying.
Mottaki added, however, that Iran is prepared to negotiate about its nuclear program "without any preconditions."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated last weekend that she would negotiate with Mottaki as soon as Iran suspends enrichment.
Iran suspended enrichment activities in 2003 to encourage negotiations with Britain, France and Germany but resumed the process in January 2006 when it concluded that the talks were leading nowhere.
The Security Council imposed limited sanctions on Iran in December over its refusal to suspend enrichment and gave it a 60-day grace period to stop. That deadline expired last Wednesday.
The United States and some of its allies object to enrichment because they it is part of Iran's efforts to secretly build nuclear weapons. Enriched to a low level, uranium is used to produce nuclear fuel but highly enriched uranium can be used in an atomic bomb.
Iran says its enrichment is solely so that it can be self-sufficient in fuel for its Russian-built nuclear reactor.
"I think Iran is making a big miscalculation" in refusing to suspend enrichment, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday.
"I think the comments from Iran are very worrying ... because yet again they're indicating they want to defy the international community," he said at his monthly news conference. "I think we've got therefore to consider what more measures we take which we are now doing with our partners," he added.
Blair refused to speculate on military options, saying only that the people wanted a diplomatic solution.
"We're perfectly happy to talk to them," he added. "The question is what is the conversation about, given that they are saying they are not going to suspend enrichment, they are still supporting extremism in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Palestine, and they are not showing any signs they are prepared to stop doing that."
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Iran had been offered "almost everything any country that wanted modern civil nuclear power could ask for" in order to persuade it to enter negotiations, but had made no serious response.
"No one wants to implement sanctions against Iran. No one wishes to have conflict or is preparing for conflict with Iran," Beckett said in an address Tuesday to a diplomat training college in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.
She said the onus was on Iran.
"While the door remains open to negotiations for Iran, someone has to walk through that door," she said.