Iranian president ridicules European nuclear offer

Iran’s hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday ridiculed a European Union plan to offer trade and technology incentives in exchange for his country agreeing to halt sensitive nuclear work.

“They say they want to give us incentives. They think they can take away our gold and give us some nuts and chocolate in exchange,” Ahmadinejad told a rally in the town of Arak.

In a feisty speech carried live on state-run television, he vowed the Islamic regime would not bow to demands that it freeze uranium-enrichment work—at the centre of fears the country could acquire atomic weapons.

The president also warned that Iran could quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and halt International Atomic Energy Agency inspections.

“We accepted a suspension for two years. This was a bitter experience for the Iranian people,” Ahmadinejad said, referring to a now-moribund deal with leading EU members Britain, France and Germany.

“The Iranians won’t be bitten twice on the same spot,” he told a crowd of thousands, drawing chants of “Death to America!” and “Ahmadinejad, we love you!”

Enrichment is a process that makes fuel for nuclear power reactors but can also produce the core of a nuclear weapon.
Iran insists that it only wants to make reactor fuel and that this is a right enshrined by the NPT.

“There is no need to give us incentives, just don’t try to wrong us,” said the president during the rock festival-style rally.

European powers are currently drawing up a package of trade and technological incentives they hope will coax Iran into voluntarily curbing its atomic ambitions. Under the draft deal, Russia would enrich uranium on Iran’s behalf, diplomats say.

The offer—which could include helping Iran acquire a light-water nuclear reactor—was to have been reviewed on Friday in London by the five permanent United Nations Security Council members plus Germany, but this meeting has been postponed by about 10 days.

“The reason is to allow more detailed preparations on the EU-3 proposals to Iran,” a British Foreign Office spokesperson told Agence France-Presse in London.

A similar offer was made last year but also spurned by Tehran, but UN Secretary General Kofi Annan implicitly urged Iran to at least look at the new offer.

“I think one should wait to see the package and what it would entail,” he told NHK television during a visit to Japan.

Although the offer may be dead on arrival, Security Council members remain divided over how to crack down on Iran.

Washington, along with the so-called EU-3, wants a Security Council resolution that would make a suspension legally binding—but Russia and China fear this would worsen tensions and open the door to military action.

“It’s necessary to concentrate on solutions that would engage Iran in dialogue. Attempts to create a negative scenario will not lead to success,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov commented Wednesday.

Ahmadinejad also played up the Russian and Chinese reluctance to side with the United States.

“These bullying powers are nothing ... They will be defeated and they won’t last. This is the divine tradition,” he said in his speech in Arak, situated 250km south-west of Tehran.

Arak is also the site of a planned heavy water reactor, another source of concern in the West.

“Don’t act in a way so that countries and other people stop being a member of the NPT and finish with the agency,” said Ahmadinejad, who managed to give a rousing speech despite an apparent sore throat.

The Iranian foreign ministry, meanwhile, offered greater European access to the country’s economy if enrichment was accepted—the exact opposite of the kind of deal the EU wants.

“We are ready to propose economic incentives to the Europeans to obtain our rights, and the market of 70 million Iranians is a part of this,” foreign ministry spokesperson Hamid Reza Asefi said.—AFP

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