updated 9/12/2004 8:02:40 AM ET 2004-09-12T12:02:40

Iran said Sunday it would not abandon uranium enrichment, rejecting a key demand by three European powers that have threatened to intensify pressure if Tehran does not curb its nuclear program.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Iran already had the technology required for its nuclear fuel cycle, and would not reverse the situation. But he repeated that Iran was willing to provide guarantees that it was not seeking to build nuclear weapons.

A top U.S. official said Sunday that the United States will pursue U.N. sanctions against Iran unless it renounces the quest for nuclear weapons. Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton, during a visit to Israel, said President Bush is "determined to try to find a peaceful and diplomatic solution" to the issue, but hinted that all options, including the use of force, remain open.

"We're determined that they're not going to achieve a nuclear-weapons capability," he said.

Asefi's comments came a day before a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's board to consider Tehran's nuclear program.

Board members France, Germany and Britain have come closer to the U.S. stance that the IAEA should refer Iran's nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council -- a step that could lead to imposition of sanctions.

November deadline
The three European nations have prepared a draft resolution for the IAEA board that would set a November deadline for Iran to meet demands aimed at clearing up concerns over its nuclear program.

Among the demands is that Iran commit not to pursue uranium enrichment and halt related activities.

The draft, obtained by The Associated Press, would set a "trigger mechanism," warning of possible "further steps" if Iran does not comply. Diplomats say the warning is shorthand for referral of Iran's case to the Security Council.

Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, aiming only to produce energy. Uranium enrichment can produce fuel for a reactor -- or, at a higher level of enrichment, material for nuclear weapons.

In recent months, Tehran has backed off an earlier suspension of enrichment activities and resumed some preparations for enrichment, though it has not resumed enrichment itself.

"If the demand is that we don't master nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, it's out of the question because we have reached that point," Asefi told a press conference.

Iran's tortured path"But if Europeans want assurances that we only make peaceful use of nuclear energy, we are ready to give guarantees," he said.

Asefi said the guarantees Iran was prepared to offer will be within the framework of the additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

"We are ready to give any sort of guarantees within the framework of the additional protocol," he said.

Before a meeting with Israel's foreign minister, Bolton said that economic sanctions against Iran are "not inevitable." He said that if Iran follows the lead of Libya, which agreed last year to dismantle nuclear weapons programs, it could prevent sanctions, but noted that Iran has refused to take the necessary steps in the last five meetings held by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency.

He said the United States and Europe are close to agreement on what steps to take against Iran and that he expected the two sides to reach a deal at the upcoming IAEA meeting.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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