Iran vows to push ahead with enrichment

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA
International Atomic Energy Agency chief head Mohamed ElBaradei, left, speaks with Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Aliasghar Soltaniyeh, after arriving at Tehran's Mehrabad airport on Thursday.Behrouz Mehri / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Iran will not retreat on its uranium enrichment, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday, signaling there would be no concessions in talks with the head of the U.N. nuclear agency who arrived to head off a confrontation with the Security Council.

“We have not seen diversion of nuclear material for weapons purposes, but the picture is still hazy and not very clear,” the U.N. nuclear chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, told reporters after talks with Iran’s nuclear officials.

ElBaradei said he had discussed with the Iranians the U.N.  request for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment for a period of time until questions over its nuclear program had been resolved.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, told the same press conference that such moves were not acceptable. “Such proposals are not very important ones,” he said.

Hours earlier, President Ahmadinejad had said enrichment was an Iranian red line in the talks with the United Nations.

“We won’t hold talks with anyone about the right of the Iranian nation (to enrich uranium) and no one has the right to retreat, even one iota,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying Thursday by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

Rice calls for ‘some consequence’
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States would look at the full range of options available to the U.N. Security Council to respond to Iran’s defiance of council resolutions concerning its nuclear program.

Rice told reporters there will “have to be some consequence” for Iran’s refusal to suspend uranium enrichment activities, as the Security Council president demanded in a statement two weeks ago.

She spoke to reporters following a meeting at the State Department with Canadian Foreign Minister Peter MacKay.

“There is no doubt that Iran continues to defy the will of the international community despite the fact that the international community very clearly said stop,” Rice said.

One option, she said, is the ability to compel Iran through provisions under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter. These provisions permit measures to ensure that the will of the international system is carried out.

Regime thought far from weapon building
Enriched uranium is used for fuel in power-generating reactors and warheads of nuclear weapons. But Western diplomats and experts familiar with Iran’s program say Iran still is far from producing any weapons-grade uranium.

“Our answer to those who are angry about Iran achieving the full nuclear fuel cycle is just one phrase. We say: ‘Be angry at us and die of this anger,”’ Ahmadinejad said.

The Security Council has given Iran until April 28 to cease enrichment of uranium. But Iran has rejected the demand and announced Tuesday that, for the first time, it had enriched uranium with 164 centrifuges — a step toward large-scale production.

Security Council ‘big five’ huddle
Representatives of the “big five” on the Security Council discussed Iran’s latest development on Thursday morning.

“We want to see what the outcome of the discussions between ElBaradei and the Iranian government is, and when we get information on that, we’ll consider what to do next,” U.S.  Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said after the meeting.

China said Thursday it was sending its assistant foreign minister to Tehran to convey its concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran’s deputy nuclear chief, Mohammad Saeedi, said Wednesday that Iran intends to move toward large-scale uranium enrichment involving 3,000 centrifuges by late 2006, and then expand the program to 54,000 centrifuges.

Saeedi said the 54,000 centrifuges would produce enough enriched uranium to fuel a 1,000-megawatt reactor, such as the one Iran has built with Russian assistance at Bushehr. The reactor is due to come on stream later this year.

Iran’s nuclear chief, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, said Wednesday that Iran is prepared to give the West a share of Iran’s enrichment facilities to allay fears that the country may divert some product to build weapons.

“The best way to get out of this issue is for countries that have concern to become our partners in Natanz in management, production and technology,” he said, referring to the site of Iran’s enrichment plant.

“This is a very important confidence-building measure,” he said.