TEHRAN, Iran, AP -Iran does not intend to build nuclear weapons, but it will continue to enrich uranium because it does not want to be dependent on others for its nuclear fuel needs, the country”s supreme ruler said Friday.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told tens of thousands of worshippers at Tehran University that Western allegations his country is secretly trying to make weapons are "a propaganda trick to deceive their own public opinion."
"They (the West) speak as if Iran is seeking nuclear weapons and they oppose it," said Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters. "I”ve said it repeatedly that we are not seeking nuclear weapons."
Rather, Tehran wants to enrich uranium to low levels to use in reactors that will generate electricity, he said.
Khamenei said Iran”s next step will be to build nuclear power plants without outside help. Russia currently is putting the finishing touches on a new nuclear power plant in Bushehr on the shores of the Persian Gulf in southern Iran. It is expected to be operational by August 2006.
"We want to enrich our own uranium explored from our own mines with equipment and technology that belongs to ourselves developed by our young scientists to produce fuel for our nuclear power plants," Khamenei said.
Iran plans to build six more 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plants until 2021, by when its electricity consumption will reach 56,000 megawatts. Iran says it will need to produce 70,000 megawatts of electricity, with 7,000 megawatts to be generated by nuclear power plants.
Khamenei”s comments follow Iran”s recent rejection of a European offer to permanently suspend uranium enrichment activities in return for a package of incentives, including supplying Iran with nuclear fuel.
"They (Europeans) say, ”Purchase it (nuclear fuel) from us.” That means dependency," the supreme leader said.
Iran suspended uranium enrichment in 2003 and expanded its suspension in November to include uranium reprocessing activities and building centrifuges used to enrich uranium. The moves were made to avoid referral to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions and to build trust in negotiations with Europe.
Efforts by Germany, Britain and France to rein in Tehran”s nuclear program suffered a blow earlier this month when Iran partially ended the nine-month suspension and restarted work last week at its Uranium Conversion Facility in the central city of Isfahan.
The move was sharply criticized by the West. President Bush indicated the military force may be an option if diplomacy fails to curb the nuclear program, which is a source of national pride for Iranians.
German Chancellor Gerhard Shroeder, who is campaigning for national elections next month, opposes that option.
Iran has called on the Europeans to start negotiations to allow Tehran to restart actual uranium enrichment — injecting gas into centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Tehran says it will never again suspend uranium conversion and has warned that Europe”s reaction to Iranian demands will largely influence Iran”s decision when to restart the work at its enrichment plant in Natanz, central Iran.
Khamenei said Iran will not give up its attempts to control the whole nuclear fuel cycle — from extracting uranium to enriching it — in line with rights granted by the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Iran said it rejected the European package because it failed to recognize Iran”s right under the NPT to enrich uranium.
"We don”t fear anybody. We have the necessary might and means to defend our rights and we won”t give up our rights," he said while drawing shouts of "Never! Never!" from worshippers. "No one has the right to compromise over the rights of the nation."
Some 500 worshippers demonstrated outside the university after Friday prayers to support Iran”s decision to resume uranium conversion in Isfahan. Demonstrators shouted, "Nuclear energy is our right!"