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Iranian President rejects UN call to stop enrichment

IRAN: Iran said it would pursue uranium enrichment in defiance of outside pressure, a day before the U.N. nuclear watchdog delivers a verdict on whether Tehran has met U.N. Security Council demands.

"If you think by frowning at us, by issuing resolutions ... you can impose anything on the Iranian nation or force it to abandon its obvious right, you still don't know its power," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a rally in northwest Iran.

WARNING: Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. AP

"We have obtained the technology for producing nuclear fuel ... No one can take it away from our nation."

Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is widely expected to tell the council and the agency's board on Friday that Iran has not stopped purifying uranium or satisfied IAEA queries as the top U.N. body asked a month ago.

The West accuses Iran of seeking nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian programme. Tehran, which denies the charge, said this month it had processed uranium to the level used in power stations for the first time and planned large-scale enrichment.

The United States, backed by Britain and France, favours limited sanctions if Iran refuses to halt enrichment very soon. Russia and China, the U.N. Security Council's other two veto-holding permanent members, have so far opposed such moves.

"To be credible, the U.N. Security Council of course has to act," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said before talks on the issue with NATO foreign ministers in Bulgaria.

"It cannot have its word and its will simply ignored by a (U.N.) member state."

More defiance from Iran, however, was what she said she expected, deeming it "highly unlikely" Tehran would comply with international demands and suspend uranium enrichment.

Rather than pushing for sanctions immediately, the Western powers may put forward a resolution to make U.N. demands set out in a March 29 council statement legally binding.

They would propose punitive measures if Iran did not comply reasonably promptly, said a council diplomat in New York.

An exiled opposition group said Iran was working at secret military sites to develop a better type of centrifuge than the "P-1" machines at its Natanz enrichment plant, which would allow it to make fuel for an atom bomb faster than current estimates.

The Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran, which has reported accurately on hidden Iranian nuclear sites in the past but whose claims could not be verified, said Iran was researching "P-2" centrifuges in secret areas of Natanz and a site near Tehran.

"They need months and not years to produce these (P-2) centrifuges," Mohammad Mohaddessin, a leading NCRI official, told Reuters.

With P-2s in operation, analysts would have to shorten estimates that Iran was still three to 10 years away from bomb-making capacity.

After talks in the Siberian city of Tomsk, Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasised the need for diplomacy but differed over the Council's role.

After Merkel had stressed its importance in the dispute, Putin pointedly said:

"The IAEA must continue to play a major, key role and it must not shrug off its responsibilities to resolve such questions and shift them onto the U.N. Security Council."

However, the Russian leader did not reiterate Moscow's long-stated opposition to sanctions.

China gave no sign it was ready to line up behind Western powers over sanctions but analysts said it was unlikely to block them.

Again advocating negotiations, the Foreign Ministry in Beijing called for calm, restraint and patience.

"China urges all parties to avoid measures that could worsen the situation," a spokesman said.

While the United States is keeping military options open in case diplomacy fails, NATO commanders stress they have not been charged at any level to study plans for the use of force.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday Iran would strike at U.S. interests worldwide if it is attacked. Tehran, Friday Reuters



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