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Iran will defend nuclear program to 'last drop of blood'

AFP | April 7 2006

Iran will defend its controversial nuclear program to its "last drop of blood" and refuse to suspend uranium enrichment as demanded by the UN Security Council, a senior cleric said Friday.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, meanwhile, flew in to Iran to visit its uranium enrichment facility and other sites, an official of the Islamic republic's atomic energy agency said.

Mohammad Saidi, the Iranian agency's vice president, said the inspectors would start work on Saturday and visit the enrichment facility in Natanz and uranium conversion plant in Isfahan.

"We want our rights and nothing more, and we will resist until our last drop of blood," Hojatoleslam Ahmad Khatami said in a Friday prayer sermon broadcast on state radio.

"They want to create a crisis. The Security Council, which ought to be an instrument of justice, wants to create insecurity and injustice," the ultra-conservative cleric charged.

"They have set a one-month deadline for us to suspend our research on enrichment. They can set a one-month delay, one for a year or whatever they want. We will not renounce our rights."

A non-binding statement approved unanimously by the world body on March 29 gave the Islamic republic 30 days to abandon the sensitive nuclear work, but without issuing a threat of sanctions.

Iran has refused to freeze its nuclear research and development -- which includes uranium enrichment -- that it resumed in January, insisting on nuclear technology for peaceful purposes as its right.

Tehran vehemently denies it has ambitions of building a nuclear bomb and says its nuclear energy program is purely peaceful.

Meanwhile, Khatami said the past week of Iranian military maneuvers in the strategic Gulf, in which missiles were tested, aimed to show that "if the enemies try to attack Islamic Iran, they will receive a severe smacking."

The IAEA visit starting Friday was planned months ago and is not linked to the Security Council statement of late March, Aliasghar Soltanieh, Iran's representative to the IAEA said, quoted by the semi-official news agency Mehr.

"The inspections to be carried out in the coming days are routine inspections within the framework of the (nuclear) Non-Proliferation Treaty and not linked to the statement," he said.

IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei said Thursday he hoped for "cooperation and transparency" from Tehran over its nuclear power standoff.

"There are still outstanding issues in Iran that we need to clarify," he told a Madrid news conference.

"I hope we will get the maximum cooperation and transparency from Iran that will enable us to provide a positive report, but I can only tell you that when our inspectors come back," he said.

"We have seen issues in Iran that we need to understand before we can say that we are satisfied that all activities in Iran are exclusively for peaceful purposes," he added.

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