KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Iran’s president on Thursday said his country will not surrender its “inalienable rights” to have a nuclear program, which the West fears is geared toward making atomic bombs.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in Malaysia for a three-day visit as part of Iran’s efforts to garner international support before Monday’s meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The U.N. watchdog wants assurances from Tehran it does not have a secret nuclear weapons program. Tehran says its nuclear program is only for producing electricity. “We believe that it is the right of all member nations to enjoy nuclear fuel and also peaceful nuclear technology. We will not accept a scientific apartheid,” Ahmadinejad told reporters in Kuala Lumpur.
If unconvinced, the IAEA board of governors could start a process leading to punishment by the U.N. Security Council, which has the authority to impose sanctions on Iran. The United States is keen to have Iran referred to the Security Council.
“My nation has chosen its path. Having said that I also point out that we don’t want to pick a fight with any country but we are very capable of defending ourselves and securing our national interests,” Ahmadinejad said.
While Iran is ready to negotiate, “it is very clear that we are not open to negotiating on our inalienable rights,” the Iranian president said, speaking in Farsi through an interpreter.
In an effort to end the crisis, Russia has offered to enrich uranium for Tehran so that the West can be assured that it is not being diverted to build weapons. Enrichment can produce fuel for nuclear power reactors or fissile material for a weapon.
On Thursday, the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said in Moscow that Tehran will negotiate with Britain, France and Germany, representing the European Union, before the IAEA meeting. A European diplomat said the talks will be held Friday in Vienna.
Ahmadinejad pledged to provide the “highest level of cooperation to the IAEA,” but did not say what offers Iran will make during the talks with the EU, or whether Iran can avoid U.N. sanctions. He also refused to say if Iran will retaliate by cutting off oil and gas exports.
In a speech to a business forum earlier Thursday, Ahmadinejad accused Western powers of trying to control the world’s oil resources and creating a climate of fear that he said was forcing countries to stockpile weapons. “They want to control the oil and gas and energy resources of the world and have control of strategic points in the world,” he said. “Many of the resources of nations are going to waste in a climate of fear, being pushed toward … the production of arms and stockpiling of weapons,” he said.
Iran sees Malaysia as a key ally in its campaign to win international support for its nuclear program. A moderate Muslim nation with influence in the West, Malaysia is the current chair of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference and the Nonaligned Movement.
On Thursday, Ahmadinejad witnessed the signing of memorandums of understanding with Malaysia for construction and electricity projects in Iran. The Malaysian construction firm Perembun signed one agreement to build an outer-ring road in southern Tehran.
Another company, Southern Renewables, will undertake a power generation project using waste, while Amuna Group will undertake a project for Iran’s housing ministry. According to Malaysian statistics, Iran is Malaysia’s third-largest trading partner in the Middle East. Bilateral trade in 2005 totaled 2.7 billion ringgit (US$727 million; ¤606 million).
Malaysia’s state oil company, Petronas, has invested 4.9 billion ringgit (US$1.32 billion; ¤1.1 billion) in oil and gas projects in Iran since 1996, much of it in exploration and development of the giant South Pars gas fields.