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Iran refuses to yield on nuclear programme

Tehran, Sept. 28 (Reuters): Iran’s foreign ministry today said Tehran would not give up its nuclear programme, including uranium enrichment, despite international pressure to prove it is not developing atomic weapons.

“Abandoning peaceful nuclear activities or enrichment is not something that Iran is ready to compromise on,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hamid Reza Asefi told a weekly news conference.

It was the latest in a series of mixed messages from Tehran since a resolution by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this month gave Iran until October 31 to prove it has no secret nuclear arms programme and told it to halt enrichment activities.

IAEA inspectors are due in Tehran on Thursday for a round of further inspections and talks with Iranian officials.

If doubts remain in November about Iran’s nuclear ambitions — which Tehran insists are limited to generating electricity — it may be reported to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

Clerical hardliners in Islamic Iran argue that Tehran should follow North Korea’s example by pulling out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a move which would put its nuclear programme firmly underground.

But officials from the reformist government have said that while Iran is not prepared to halt its nuclear programme it will cooperate with the IAEA and is considering signing an Additional Protocol to the NPT which would allow snap inspections of nuclear sites.

“We are interested in solving the issue and we believe that negotiations and talks should continue with the IAEA,” Asefi said.

“If both sides talk transparently and answer some ambiguities, naturally Iran’s cooperation with the agency could bear good results.”

President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday urged Iran to give up any hopes of building nuclear weapons and to expand its cooperation with the UN agency.

Asked for Iran’s response, Asefi said: “We are not pursuing nuclear weapons, we neither want to produce nor use them. Our cooperation with the agency has been very transparent.”

Diplomats said last week that IAEA inspectors had found traces of arms-grade uranium at a second site in Iran.

Asefi said Iran had not been officially informed by the IAEA of the discovery at the Kalaye Electric Co facility in Tehran.

Iran says the highly enriched uranium found at Kalaye and the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in central Iran were due to contamination from imported equipment.

“It is clear that because some of these parts were imported they could be contaminated,” Asefi said.

Diplomats are divided on whether Iran’s contamination theory holds water.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said late last week he hoped Iran would come clean about its nuclear activities by November.

“There are a lot of worrying signs, a lot of indications that Iran has been active in developing its nuclear programme,” he said in an interview on CNN on Friday.

Asked if he thought that Iran would meet the IAEA’s October 31 deadline, ElBaradei said: “I hope so. I hope at least that I will not be in a position to report that I’m not getting full cooperation and full transparency by Iran.”

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