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Iran says wants to stay within nuclear rules

Reuters | February 11, 2007  
Parisa Hafezi

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad marked the 28th anniversary of Iran's revolution on Sunday pledging to pursue the country's nuclear program but announcing no new atomic work that would have riled the West.

Ahmadinejad, under pressure at home to tone down speeches his critics say have helped push Iran toward international isolation, said he would keep within international regulations but still ruled out a UN demand to suspend uranium enrichment.

Iran has until February 21 to halt uranium enrichment, a process that can make fuel for power stations or, if greatly enriched, material for warheads. A UN sanctions resolution passed in December threatened further measures if Iran refuses.

"We are ready for talks but will not suspend our activities," Ahmadinejad told hundreds of thousands of Iranians in Tehran's Azadi (Freedom) square to mark the 1979 Islamic revolution, saying suspension would be "humiliation".

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, met European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Germany on Sunday to discuss the row. Solana said after the meeting no deal had been reached but possible solutions were being explored.

The United States, which has stepped up pressure on Iran by sending a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf, has been adamant it would not accept anything short of full suspension.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy also said the international community's demand was "exceedingly clear".

"(Iran) can accept what the international community has said and suspend its sensitive nuclear activities and then we would be ready to suspend our sanctions in the United Nations Security Council," he told French radio.

Ahmadinejad said Iran would work within the "regulations and treaties" of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

He also told demonstrators waving banners saying "Nuclear energy is our obvious right" that Iran would announce "great" achievements in the days up to April 9, "especially nuclear" developments. He insisted Iran's atomic work was peaceful.

Although often the most vocal, Ahmadinejad is not the most powerful figure in Iran. The final say lies with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has also vowed not to give up Iran's peaceful atomic ambitions.

CONCESSIONS

Solana said he held a "good meeting" with Larijani in Munich and said the Iranian negotiator would continue talks with other Western politicians on Sunday. "We will try to see if we can recuperate a sense of dialogue and find any possible solutions," Solana said.

Diplomats say a proposal being weighed by some European states would permit Iran to keep enrichment infrastructure of several hundred centrifuges but not to put feedstock in the machines during talks over a package of incentives.

"Of course different ideas have been raised which are in need of further elaboration and examination to find an appropriate solution," Larijani told reporters in Munich when asked about that proposal. But he did not give further details.

Nuclear talks last year between Iran and six world powers -- the United States, Britain, Germany, France, China and Russia -- failed after Tehran refused to suspend enrichment work.

Larijani told a German newspaper Iran was ready for concessions such as running centrifuges that only enrich uranium to 4 percent but not suspension as a condition for talks. Uranium must be enriched to at least 80 percent for bombs.

Iran already operates two experimental cascades, each of 164 centrifuges, at its Natanz facility. Western diplomats say Iran has also set up an additional two cascades in an underground section of the facility, the first stage toward building thousands for what Iran calls "industrial-scale" enrichment.

Ahmadinejad's promise to celebrate what he calls Iran's nuclear rights during Sunday's events had prompted talk that the anti-Western president might say it had begun installing 3,000 centrifuges at its Natanz uranium enrichment plant.

Prior to the speech, a senior Iranian official told Reuters no such announcement would be made that would provoke the West.

Pragmatic voices, increasingly prominent in Iran's ruling elite, have been counseling a more cautious approach in Iran since the UN sanctions were imposed.

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