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Iran: We will pursue uranium enrichment

Iran will pursue its nuclear fuel activities despite mounting international pressure to halt the disputed operations, chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani was quoted on Sunday as saying.
/ Source: Reuters

Iran insisted on Sunday it would never stop uranium enrichment despite a looming U.N. deadline to halt the sensitive atomic work, which the West says is part of an effort to build atomic bombs.

“Iran will continue its uranium enrichment. We want to produce our own nuclear fuel,” Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani was quoted as saying by the students news agency ISNA. “We will never stop it.”

The U.N. Security Council has told Iran to suspend atomic fuel work by Aug. 31 or face possible sanctions. The West suspects Iran is secretly pursuing nuclear arms. Iran insists its nuclear work aims only to generate electricity.

“Any measure to deprive Iran of its right will not change our mind about our aim,” Larijani said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Reza Baqheri also told the official IRNA news agency that Iran would not give up enrichment. “It is our red line,” he said.

The West’s main concern is Iran’s enrichment program, a process that can be used to produce fuel for nuclear power stations or material for nuclear bombs.

The Islamic Republic has refused to stop the work and shrugged off the threat of sanctions, saying these would propel soaring oil prices higher still, damaging the industrialized world.

The United States has warned of swift action on sanctions after Aug. 31. Britain, Germany and France have been more cautious in public. Russia and China, both major trade partners of Iran, have been unwilling and could veto sanctions in the Security Council.

“Those who threaten us with sanctions know perfectly that we have obtained a home-made atomic program under international sanctions,” Larijani said. “And it is irreversible.”

Annan to visit Tehran
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan will visit Iran on Saturday, Sept. 2, two days after the U.N. deadline, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a news conference.

“He will hold talks with Iranian officials to discuss various issues during his two-day visit,” Asefi said.

Iran responded on Tuesday to a 2 1/2-month-old package of incentives proposed by six world powers and said its reply contained ideas that would allow serious talks. It was unclear whether the reply would avert a resort to sanctions.

Asefi reiterated that talks could resolve Iran’s nuclear dispute with the West.

“It is about time for the European side to return to talks without any prejudgment ... Serious talks can lead us to reach an understanding,” he said.

The six powers say they will hold off on any action until after the Aug. 31 report by the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency that will judge whether Iran has halted enrichment-related activity or not.

Diplomats close to the Vienna-based IAEA say the verdict is all but inevitable -- Iranian nuclear activity continues -- but that the West could not reasonably have expected otherwise.

“A lot of the media focus has been on Iran’s offer being unacceptable because it didn’t include the upfront agreement to suspend enrichment,” said one senior diplomat.

“But no one, from (U.S. ambassador to United Nations) John Bolton to Cinderella’s fairy godmother, actually expected that to happen,” he said.

“What Iran did offer -- a thoughtful counterproposal that did not rule out suspension as part of negotiations -- was as positive as anyone could have hoped for.”

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Friday he would meet Larijani in coming days to discuss “new elements” made in Iran’s 21-page response.