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Iran Refuses To Halt Uranium Enrichment

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad (file photo) (Fars) February 21, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Iran has given no indication it intends to halt uranium enrichment by today's United Nations Security Council deadline, as Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad vowed today that Tehran will press ahead with its nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad said that obtaining nuclear technology is very important for Iran's "development and honor."

El-Baradei has urged both sides to take a "time-out" to enable talks -- Iran would suspend enrichment rather than accelerate it, while at the same time UN sanctions against Tehran would be suspended.

His comments come ahead of a UN report that is expected to say Iran has defied a 60-day UN Security Council deadline to suspend uranium enrichment. The report -- by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Muhammad el-Baradei -- is likely to be issued later today or on February 22.

Dual Use

Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for a civilian nuclear reactor but it can also be used for the production of nuclear weapons.

Iran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful and, as a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), it has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. But the West suspects Iran is secretly seeking to develop nuclear weapons, therefore it aims to curb Tehran's nuclear program.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said on February 20 that his country is willing to offer guarantees during negotiations that it will not seek nuclear weapons. He said Tehran is ready to talk but said that halting its uranium-enrichment activities is not on its agenda.

Larijani -- who met in Vienna with IAEA chief el-Baradei -- gave a warning about the use of force on Iran.

Further Sanctions Possible

"If one is interested in irrational and harsh behavior, well, that will have its own appropriate response," he said. "In fact, one approach is resolving the issue logically and through talks, but harsh behavior is another [approach]."

In December, the UN Security Council banned the sale of sensitive nuclear materials and technology to Tehran. The UN has warned it will take "further appropriate measures" if Iran refused to comply and stop uranium-enrichment activity.

On February 20, Ahmadinejad said Iran could suspend its uranium enrichment if Western countries do the same.

The offer was dismissed by White House spokesman Tony Snow, who questioned whether Ahmadinejad's statement was serious.

"The offer that the Iranians need to make is to suspend activity that could lead to the enrichment of nuclear material that could be used in creating a bomb," Snow said.

Russia And China Loom Large

Snow declined to comment on whether Iran might face additional sanctions if it failed to meet the UN deadline and said Washington was waiting for the report from the IAEA.

Some observers predict Iran's defiance could result in broader sanctions and other measures against the Islamic Republic.

The United States and Britain are in favor of increasing the pressure on Tehran. But Russia and China, permanent members of the UN Security Council with immense economic interests in Iran, are likely to resist adding pressure. Beijing has said that sanctions cannot be a permanent solution to the nuclear standoff.

Iran has defiantly said sanctions will not force the country to give up its nuclear program. Iranian officials have called for negotiations but rejected any preconditions.

IAEA Wants Talks

El-Baradei told the "Financial Times" earlier this week (February 19) that talks are the only option for resolving the Iranian nuclear dispute. He said: "It's just a question of how to get both sides to the negotiating table while saving face."

El-Baradei has urged both sides to take a "time-out" to enable talks -- Iran would suspend enrichment rather than accelerate it, while at the same time UN sanctions against Tehran would be suspended.

In Berlin today, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Tehran to comply with the UN Security Council resolution.

"I would strongly urge the Iranian authorities to comply, first of all, fully with the Security Council resolution and continue to negotiate with the international community, particularly the European Union," he said.

Meanwhile, diplomats in Vienna are quoted by agencies as saying that the UN Security Council is not expected to take action against Iran before the next meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors from March 5-9.

RFE/RL Iran Report

RFE/RL Iran Report

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