updated 2/27/2007 6:59:22 AM ET 2007-02-27T11:59:22

Iran’s foreign minister reiterated Tuesday that his country would never again suspend uranium enrichment, a move the United States says is essential for Washington-Tehran negotiations.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was speaking a day after the United States, the four other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany considered measures that could include further sanctions on Iran for refusing to suspend enrichment.

“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 telling a conference in the capital Tehran.

Mottaki added, however, that Iran is prepared to negotiate about its nuclear program “without any preconditions.”

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 Tehran’s refusal to suspend enrichment and gave it a 60-day grace period to stop. That deadline expired last Wednesday.

Secret weapons program?
The United States and some of its allies object to Iran’s enrichment process because they believe Tehran is secretly trying to 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.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated last weekend that she would negotiate with Mottaki as soon as Iran suspends enrichment.

Blix: Precondition ‘humiliating’
Former chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix criticized the U.S. precondition on Monday as “humiliating” for Iran.

“This is in a way like telling a child, first you will behave and thereafter you will be given your rewards,” Blix said at a conference on international security in New York.

And a former U.S. State Department official, Richard Haass, who now heads the Council on Foreign Relations, said the call for stopping enrichment should not be allowed to “torpedo diplomacy.”

But Haass also criticized Iran for defying the Security Council.

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