Iran Says Won't Stop Nuclear Work
Iran's president insisted on his country's right to nuclear technology on Friday despite facing what Washington called a "moment of truth" over a program that could produce atomic weapons. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments suggested Tehran may have already decided to reject offers of incentives and negotiations from six of the world's top powers in return for ending atomic fuel activities.
"Pressure of some Western countries to force Iran to abandon its right (to nuclear technology) will not get a result," IRNA quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
Although Ahmadinejad did not mention uranium enrichment, Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said Iran's plans included such sensitive work.
"Iran is determined to go ahead with its nuclear enrichment work for peaceful purposes," he told students news agency ISNA.
But U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice still held out the possibility she would meet Iranian officials in what would be the highest-level such face-to-face contact since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Washington cut ties with Iran in 1980.
"It depends of course on what Iran does," she told National Public Radio in one of a series of interviews. Washington says Iran must stop atomic fuel work before any talks.
"If Iran is prepared to verifiably suspend its program and enter into negotiations, then we'll determine the level (of representation) but I wouldn't be at all surprised if the ministers meet at some point," she said.
Iran was facing a "moment of truth," she told CBS.
Highlighting U.S. fears about Iran's intentions, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte told BBC Radio Iran could have an atomic bomb as early as 2010 and accused Tehran of being the top state sponsor of terrorism.
The White House said Ahmadinejad was just staking out "negotiating positions" and expected Iran to "take a careful look" at a basket of incentives, approved by the U.S., British, French, German Russian and Chinese foreign ministers at a Vienna meeting on Thursday, before officially responding.
European officials will give Iranian officials a detailed presentation of the incentives in the next couple of days and a formal answer was hoped for within weeks, White House spokesman Tony Snow said.
Decision-making in Iran can be drawn out by a complex political structure with ultimate power resting in the hands of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran, the world's No. 4 oil producer, says it wants to enrich uranium only to the level required for use in atomic reactors to generate electricity and has no interest in making highly-enriched uranium, a key ingredient in nuclear warheads.
Russia and China, who do not believe Iran poses an imminent threat to peace as Western leaders believe, have opposed threatening Iran with sanctions if it defies such demands.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday it was too early to speak about sanctions against Iran.
"As far as sanctions are concerned, we think it is a bit too early at the moment to talk about that," Putin said at a meeting with the chiefs of international news agencies in Moscow.
"We need to have a deep conversation with the Iranian leadership. Only after that can we talk about the next step."
But Rice said Moscow and Beijing had signed up in Vienna to two "quite robust" paths -- one leading Iran to international integration with incentives and another toward isolation via various penalties.
A European Union diplomat said Russia and China -- both major trading partners of Iran -- had agreed not to block any U.N. sanctions against Tehran, but could opt out of particular punitive measures.
"There is something like a catalog of sanctions and we can pick and choose from them. The agreement reached ... is also that Russia and China can abstain from any sanctions, but not say no," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity. READ MORE
Western officials would not say if the package specified what sanctions Iran could face, and Russia said military action -- mooted by Washington as a last-resort option -- was not on the table now.
"I can say unambiguously that all the agreements from yesterday's meetings rule out in any circumstances the use of military force," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by RIA news agency as saying.
If Iran rebuffed the incentives, Lavrov said the big powers would return to discussing a U.N. Security Council resolution ordering Tehran to stop enriching uranium. But he said it would not mention sanctions, contrary to Western wishes.
Diplomats said earlier the incentives would encompass a light-water nuclear reactor and an assured foreign supply of atomic fuel so Iran would not need to enrich uranium itself, thereby mastering technology with weapons applications.
They had said sanctions could entail visa bans and a freeze on assets of Iranian officials before resort to trade measures.
(additional reporting by Mark Heinrich and Carol Giacomo in Vienna, Parisa Hafezi in Tehran, Paul Majendie in London, Richard Balmforth in Moscow)