TEHRAN (AFP) – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has rejected a key Western demand over Iran’s nuclear programme, vowing that the Islamic republic would not halt enriching uranium even for a short period.
“They want us to suspend for a short period and then they will use this for propaganda and say Iran has suspended and it has caved in,” Ahmadinejad said Saturday, according to the student news agency ISNA.
“Nobody has the right to make Iran back down over its rights. With rationality and with logic, we will defend the rights of Iran,” he said in a speech to students to mark the first day of the new university term.
Ahmadinejad’s comments come just two days after talks between EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani on Tehran’s atomic programme ended in Berlin without agreement.
The main stumbling block has been EU and US demands that Iran suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can be used to make both nuclear fuel and the explosive core of a nuclear bomb.
Ahmadinejad’s latest remarks are among his clearest signals yet that Iran does not intend to suspend enrichment, despite assertions by European diplomats that Tehran offered a two-month suspension in talks earlier this month.
But EU diplomats are still hoping Iran will agree to some kind of suspension under a deal offered by the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany that offers Tehran a package of diplomatic and economic incentives.
“We need what I would call trustworthy signals from the Iranian leadership,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in an interview with German private television station n-tv.
“Decisions must be reached in Iran, and there still seem to be discussions going on about those decisions,” the minister added, suggesting the Iranian leadership was divided about which direction to take in the current talks.
But Ahmadinejad indicated that Iran would not bend in its stance on enrichment, a right which Tehran says is enshrined under the Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty.
“They have been putting pressure on us to suspend enrichment. At first they asked us to suspend for six months, then they asked us to suspend for three months, then for one month,” he said.
“We said no.
“Now they have proposed that we suspend for a short period, for one day, but we asked them ‘Why do you want us to suspend?’
“They said suspend for a few days and explain that you have technical problems. But we have no technical problems! Why should we lie to the people?” he added.
The head of parliament’s foreign affairs commission echoed that there was no going back from such sensitive activities. Iran has already succeeded in enriching uranium to almost five percent in research work.
“The path is irreversible. We suspended for two years but today there is no need to suspend our research activities,” said Allaeddine Boroujerdi, referring to a suspension under a previous EU deal, according to the IRNA agency.
“Iran has declared the question of suspension can be negotiated. It is very important to negotiate the different aspects of this question, as has been the case and will be in the talks between Larijani and Solana,” he added, without elaborating.
Iran insists that its nuclear programme is solely for peaceful energy needs, vehemently rejecting US allegations that it is seeking to manufacture nuclear weapons.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is to hold a conference call with Solana and her counterparts from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia over the weekend to take stock of the state of negotiations.
Rice, who has encouraged the Solana talks despite showing mounting impatience with Iran, has won an agreement from the world powers for an early October deadline for Tehran to stop enriching uranium, diplomats said.
But the United States has also been leading a push for UN sanctions against Iran should the talks fail, running into opposition to its tough stance from Russia and China.
Any UN sanctions would come on top of the existing regime of US sanctions that Washington imposed after the seizure of its embassy in Tehran in 1979 and which include a trade embargo.
Meanwhile, the US Congress early Saturday gave its final approval to a new set of sanctions targeting foreign countries that continue nuclear cooperation with Iran and sell it advanced weaponry.
Although it does not name any countries, the measure is seen as a clear warning to Russia and China. Moscow has been involved in a key project to build Iran’s first nuclear power station in the southern city of Bushehr.