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Iran to ignore calls to halt atomic work

Parisa Hafezi / Reuters | April 13 2006

Iran will ignore renewed international calls to halt uranium enrichment, its president said, casting a shadow over Thursday's visit for nuclear talks by the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei said he would urge top officials in Tehran to end sensitive atomic work, less than 48 hours after Iran drew world condemnation for saying it planned industrial-scale enrichment.

"Our answer to those who are angry about Iran obtaining the full nuclear cycle is one phrase, we say: Be angry and die of this anger," Ahmadinejad said late on Wednesday, in comments reported by the official IRNA news agency.

"We will not hold talks with anyone about the Iranian nation's right (to enrichment) and no one has the right to step back, even one iota."

His triumphant declaration on Tuesday that Iran had enriched uranium to a level used in power stations and that it wanted to expand production on a large scale, drew rebukes from world powers, including Russia and China.

China said it would send a top envoy on arms control, Assistant Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, to Iran and Russia from Friday to try to defuse the nuclear standoff.

"We hope the relevant parties can exercise restraint and not take measures that will escalate the situation," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

The United States said the U.N. Security Council, which can impose sanctions, must take "strong steps". Washington and other Western nations accuse Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to build weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

Washington has said it wants a diplomatic solution to the dispute, but has left a military option open.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy dismissed talk of possible military strikes as "absolutely not topical".

The Security Council, which can impose sanctions, has told Iran to halt all sensitive atomic activities and asked the IAEA to report on its compliance by the end of April, prompting ElBaradei's one-day visit.

"I am going to discuss (bringing) Iran in line with the request of the international community, to take confidence- building measures, including suspension of uranium enrichment until outstanding issues are clarified," ElBaradei said.


"WISHFUL THINKING"

"I would like to see Iran ... come to terms with the request of the international community," he said on arrival in Tehran early on Thursday, shortly after Ahmadinejad made his remarks.

But IAEA diplomats were cautioning against expecting any deal to emerge even before Ahmadinejad's latest defiant remarks.

"It's wishful thinking to think Iran would shut down the nuclear process entirely now," a diplomat at the IAEA said in Vienna.

"They have obviously achieved a significant advance at the research and development level and want to present it as a fait accompli to strengthen their bargaining position with the West."

Three European powers -- Britain, France and Germany -- had been in talks with Iran on suspending its enrichment but called them off in January after Tehran said it would resume the work.

Diplomats at the Security Council said the five permanent council members plus Germany would meet to discuss Iran in Moscow next week. But they said the council was unlikely to take action before receiving ElBaradei's report.

The level of enrichment needed for nuclear bombs is far higher than the 3.5 percent Iran says it has achieved. Experts say it would take Iran two decades to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb from its current 164 centrifuges.

But Tehran says it wants to install 3,000 centrifuges, which experts say could produce material for a warhead in one year.


ElBaradei made no comment on his way to meet Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization.

An Iranian official said ElBaradei would also meet Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

(Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich in Vienna and Lindsay Beck in Beijing)

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