Thursday, July 20, 2006

Iran Rejects Demands to Freeze Nuclear Work

ABC News:
Iran has again rejected international demands it freeze its controversial nuclear program and warned the UN Security Council against choosing a "path of confrontation". In a statement read on state television, nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani also said Iran would take until August 22 to reply to an international offer of incentives in exchange for a halt of uranium enrichment. READ MORE

But he also accused the United States, which has lumped Iran into an "axis of evil", of trying to derail diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis.

"According to the adopted plan to generate 20,000 megawatts of atomic energy over the next 20 years, the Islamic republic has decided to make some of its own nuclear fuel inside Iran," said the statement from Mr Larijani, the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

He said Tehran was "ready to find a diplomatic solution with a suitable calendar for both parties" but issued a warning to the Security Council - currently discussing ways to pressure Iran into freezing enrichment.

"If the path of confrontation is chosen instead of the path of dialogue, and if there is any action to limit the absolute rights of the Iranian people, the Islamic republic will have no choice but to revise its policy," the statement warned.

Iran says it only wants to enrich to the low levels needed to make reactor fuel and that this is a right under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The technology can, however, be extended to make weapons. Iran's failure to disclose its program for nearly two decades aroused suspicions that it wants weapons and thus brought demands for a suspension.

Several top officials have already threatened to prevent International Atomic Energy Agency inspections and even quit the NPT if the pressure mounts.

Last week Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States decided to send Iran's case back to the Security Council after Tehran failed to respond to their offer, billed as a way to guarantee Iranian access to civilian nuclear technology while preventing it from getting the bomb.

Tehran has repeatedly insisted that it is ready to negotiate, but at the same time has rejected any "preconditions" being imposed.

"Iran has welcomed the offer from the big powers, and the examination of it is continuing. This takes time, and the reply will be given on August 22," said the statement, billed by state television as an "important announcement".

The Security Council members, Mr Larijani said, should "return to the negotiating table".

"Certain parties, notably the United States, have steered a path towards the Security Council by putting obstacles in the way of negotiations," Mr Larijani said.

Mr Larijani's statement in effect repeated Tehran's oft-stated unwillingness to stop enriching uranium.

It also came after the UN Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany have begun consultations - so far inconclusive - on a resolution that would make a suspension legally binding under international law.

Western countries have presented Russia and China with a text that would require Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing activities.

"My instructions remain to get this resolution passed as soon as possible, this week if possible," the US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, said on Wednesday.

Russia has also hardened its tone against Iran, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov signalling on Wednesday that Russia may agree to sanctions if Iran refuses to budge.

"If the first resolution... doesn't work, we have agreed that after a period it will be necessary to discuss additional measures, including measures of an economic character," Mr Lavrov told Echo Moscow radio.