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Iran hits back over nuclear rebuke
Updated: 2004-06-17 11:27

Iran Wednesday threatened to resume uranium enrichment, a process that could be used to make atomic bombs, if the U.N. nuclear agency passed a stern resolution rebuking it for poor cooperation.

The United States immediately accused Iran of trying to bully the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), meeting in Vienna, and said such tactics increased suspicions that Tehran was secretly making weapons.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami answers a journalist's question after the cabinet meeting in Tehran June 16, 2004.  [Reuters]
"The basic message that Iran is sending is that they have something to hide and they're going to use any means they have, including intimidation, to keep things from coming to light," said Kenneth Brill, U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in Vienna.

"People who are trying to produce electricity for lightbulbs don't engage in this kind of behavior," he said.

In his toughest warning to the IAEA yet, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami described as "very bad" a resolution drafted by Britain, Germany and France that "deplores" Iran's inadequate cooperation with the agency.

"If this resolution passes, Iran will have no moral commitment to suspend uranium enrichment," he told reporters.

But Khatami, aware that Washington wants its case sent to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions, balanced his tough line with assurances that Iran's aims were peaceful and that Tehran did not plan to kick out U.N. inspectors.

"We have no intention of using nuclear technology for military use," he said. "We will continue our cooperation with the agency in the framework of the law and our rights."

Europe's "big three" circulated a newly revised draft resolution late Wednesday, but Iran's chief delegate said the changes were minor and the draft was still unacceptable.

"There are some positive changes but they are very minor," Hossein Mousavian, secretary of the foreign policy committee of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told Reuters. "Not much has changed, which is not at all acceptable."

Iran, which denies seeking weapons, says it wants to produce low-grade enriched uranium as fuel for nuclear power reactors. But Washington and many European states fear it could use the technology to make highly-enriched, bomb-grade uranium.

Some 900 protesters, many of them members of a hardline Islamic volunteer militia, gathered at two Iranian nuclear plants vowing to defend with their lives Iran's right to develop nuclear technology, the official IRNA news agency reported.


In Vienna, several diplomats said Europe's big three states met with board members on a new draft of the resolution they had hoped would be acceptable to the entire board -- and Iran.

Diplomats said the new draft satisfied Russia but not the non-aligned states, Iran's strongest supporters on the board.

Mousavian, Iran's chief delegate, said the main sticking point was a paragraph urging Iran to "reconsider" plans to operate a uranium conversion plant and begin construction of a heavy-water research reactor. He said the latest draft has the words "voluntarily reconsider," which was still unacceptable.

"It is important to delete this (paragraph)," he said, adding the large bloc of non-aligned countries on the board backed Iran on this.

But a Western diplomat said the reactor was a problem as it would produce little electricity but ample bomb-grade plutonium.

Iran says the resolution under discussion in Vienna has blown technical shortcomings out of proportion and is driven by an anti-Iranian political agenda in the United States.

"The IAEA resolution is very bad ... (it) violates our country's rights," Khatami said. "Iran's nuclear row is political, and there is a political will behind it to stop us accessing peaceful nuclear technology," he said.

Diplomats in Vienna say Washington had wanted a tougher resolution which would set a deadline for Iran to come clean about its nuclear plans for face the Security Council.

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