ALGIERS, (Reuters) – Iran will not give up its atomic energy programme, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in remarks published on Saturday before a visit to fellow OPEC-member Algeria. “Iran has not demanded more than its right to nuclear energy. We are not ready to give up a single inch of this right,” Ahmadinejad said in an interview with Algerian newspaper El Watan. “We will continue our efforts within the framework of international law. I can say that Iran is a nuclear state.”
Ahmadinejad did not say whether he would discuss the nuclear issue with Algeria during the three-day trip which starts on Monday, his first visit to the North African country.
The United States and other Western powers suspect Iran has a secret programme to build nuclear weapons. The oil-producing Islamic republic says its atomic programme is intended only to generate electricity for the benefit of its economy.
Two sets of United Nations sanctions have been imposed on Iran for defying Security Council resolutions demanding it suspend all nuclear fuel activity.
A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, is due to arrive in Tehran for talks on Monday on an “action plan” to defuse suspicions of a covert atom bomb programme.
In El Watan, Ahmadinejad also defended the idea of a cartel of gas exporters similar to OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, a suggestion that Iran aired with Algeria, Russia and Qatar early this year.
Analysts say the idea is unrealistic as the gas market is dominated by long-term contracts.
A gas cartel “will be beneficial for all the countries which have important oil and gas reserves”, Ahmadinejad told the newspaper. “The question of energy will arise today, tomorrow and in centuries to come. The countries which have oil and gas reserves must find the means of coordinating their actions well.”