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22 Aug 2006 15:52
Iran delivered its response on Tuesday to a deal aimed at ending a nuclear stand-off—but it had already signalled it was likely to defy the international community and refuse to freeze sensitive atomic work.
Top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani delivered Tehran’s written response shortly after 1.15pm GMT to representatives of the five permanent United Nations Security Council members plus Germany that drew up the incentives package. Details on the response were not immediately available.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on all key policy issues, had said on Monday that Iran was determined to press ahead with its nuclear programme despite an August 31 Security Council deadline to suspend uranium enrichment.
“Iran will give a response that will provide Europe with an exceptional chance for an understanding and a return to the negotiating table,” Atomic Energy Organisation deputy head Mohammad Saeedi also said on Monday, adding that an enrichment freeze was “no longer possible”.
Divisions are emerging among world powers over how to handle the crisis, with the United States baying for sanctions while China said punishing Iran is not the way to resolve the long-running crisis.
Washington suspects the programme is a cover for an attempt to produce a bomb but Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil producer, insists it is purely for peaceful electricity-generation purposes.
“The Islamic republic has made up its mind and on the nuclear programme and other issues it will continue on its path with strength, with God’s help,” Khamenei was quoted as saying on Monday.
The proposal, drawn up by the so-called 5+1—the five Security Council permanent members, Britain, China, France, Russia and the US, plus Germany—was submitted to Tehran in June.
It offers trade and technology incentives in return for a freeze on enrichment, which can make the fuel for nuclear power stations or in extended form can produce the fissile core of an atom bomb.
But Saeedi told the semi-official Mehr news agency that Iran wants to clarify “ambiguities” in the proposal relating to article four of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which affirms the right of signatory states to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
With the threat of sanctions looming large, and bellicose warnings from the US, Iran has been showing off its military muscle during war games this week to demonstrate its readiness to “respond to any threat”.
In Israel, a Cabinet minister and former Mossad spy said the country should learn the lessons of its offensive against Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and prepare for an Iranian attack.
One of Iran’s top hard-line clerics warned last week that if the country was attacked by the US and Israel, it would retaliate with ballistic missile strikes against Tel Aviv.
Saeedi has said Iran is planning to start up a plant in the city of Arak to produce heavy water for a research reactor due for completion by 2009, and pressing on with its research on centrifuges used in the nuclear fuel process.
The UN atomic watchdog is concerned about the risk of diversion of nuclear materials as the reactor could produce 8kg to 10kg of plutonium a year, enough to make at least two nuclear bombs.
US President George Bush said Washington would take the lead in demanding enforcement action if Iran failed to halt nuclear work.
“There must be consequences if people thumb their nose at the UN Security Council,” he said.
But a Chinese official said Beijing opposes sanctions. “We have all along stood for a peaceful settlement of the issue through negotiations, rather than resorting to force or threatening sanctions,” said Sun Bigan, special envoy to the Middle East. “Resorting to force and sanctions cannot fully solve the problems.”
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has urged Iran to reply positively. “I appeal to the government of Iran to seize this historic opportunity,” he said on Sunday. “Iran’s reply will, I trust, be positive and that this will be the foundation for a final, negotiated settlement.”
But the markets took fright at the negative noises coming out of Iran, the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ (Opec) number-two producer, which has threatened to halt exports to the West if the Security Council imposes sanctions. In London, Brent North Sea crude for October delivery gained 20 cents to $73,58 per barrel in electronic trade.—Sapa-AFP
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