Iran Nuclear NewsIran won't halt atomic work, snubs big powers

Iran won’t halt atomic work, snubs big powers

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Reuters: Iran said on Tuesday it would never suspend uranium enrichment as demanded by the West, a day after world powers agreed to work on a new U.N. resolution to pressure Tehran to back down over its nuclear program. By Edmund Blair

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran said on Tuesday it would never suspend uranium enrichment as demanded by the West, a day after world powers agreed to work on a new U.N. resolution to pressure Tehran to back down over its nuclear program.

Officials from the five permanent U.N. Security Council members — the United States, France, Russia, China and Britain — plus Germany, who met in London on Monday, also said they were committed to a negotiated resolution to the standoff.

The United States, which says “all options” are on the table while insisting it wants a peaceful solution, has ratcheted up pressure by sending a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf.

Russia has voiced concern about growing talk of military strikes and China again called on Tuesday for a diplomatic solution. Both countries, which have veto powers in the Security Council, have been reluctant to penalize Iran in the past.

“Suspending uranium enrichment is an illegal and illegitimate demand … and it will never happen,” Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying. Another agency said he backed atomic talks but without preconditions.

The United Nations imposed limited sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program in December and Tehran faces possible further steps for ignoring a February 21 deadline to halt enrichment, which the West says Iran is using so it can make atomic bombs.

Iran’s open refusal to halt enrichment, a process it insists it only wants to make fuel for nuclear power plants, is echoed by some Iranian officials in private, suggesting the public pronouncements are more than just rhetoric.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said after the London meeting world powers would hold phone talks on Thursday to discuss elements of a new resolution.

New steps could include a travel ban on senior Iranian officials and restrictions on non-nuclear business.

INDUSTRIAL-SCALE PLANS

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said military strikes on Iranian atomic sites were “absolutely not an issue”.

“There is a big chance that we will all be able to agree quickly, including the Russians and the Chinese, the Americans, the British and the French, on a second resolution with economic sanctions,” he said in televised remarks after Monday’s meeting.

Iran, the world’s fourth biggest oil producer, runs a few hundred centrifuges used for enrichment. It is setting up the first of 3,000 new machines for what it calls “industrial-scale” enrichment, even though its first atomic power plant is still being built and will use fuel supplied by Russia.

With 3,000 machines, Iran could make enough material for a bomb in one year, if it wanted, experts say.

“Iran will soon start a plan for the industrial use of nuclear energy,” Iranian First Vice President Parviz Davoudi was quoted as saying by IRNA. He said the first U.N. sanctions resolution had no impact and no action would stop Iran’s plans.

The kind of compromise mooted by chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, is for Tehran to cap uranium enrichment at four percent, far below the level needed for bombs. Western diplomats reject this, saying Iran would still obtain atomic skills.

Vice President Dick Cheney has said it would be a “serious mistake” to let Iran become an atomic power. Washington has said it will only talk to Iran when it halts enrichment.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang renewed China’s call for diplomacy and “peaceful negotiation”.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Tehran, Francois Murphy in Paris, Evelyn Leopold in New York, Sophie Walker in London and Lindsay Beck in Beijing)

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