AFP: Top Iranian officials gave fresh signals Friday that Tehran will reject a demand from Britain, France and Germany that it completely halt sensitive nuclear activities in return for a package of incentives.
Speaking in a Friday prayer sermon, top cleric and powerful ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani warned the European Union,
the United States and the UN's atomic watchdog that they were
facing "trouble" for pressuring Iran to abandon fuel cycle work. AFP

By Aresu Eqbali

TEHRAN - Top Iranian officials gave fresh signals Friday that Tehran will reject a demand from Britain, France and Germany that it completely halt sensitive nuclear activities in return for a package of incentives.

Speaking in a Friday prayer sermon, top cleric and powerful ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani warned the European Union, the United States and the UN's atomic watchdog that they were facing "trouble" for pressuring Iran to abandon fuel cycle work.

"I say to the Europe, US and the agency that this style of confrontation will definitely not bring you a favourable result, and it will cause trouble for you," he said.

He complained that Iran had been forced to accept a "two-year suspension and delay in nuclear activities" and that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was "keeping Iran busy with resolutions and the sending of inspectors".

And while he said the international community was welcome to "bring up any issue that helps creating confidence", he said it should "not go further" -- a reference to demands that Iran abandon its nuclear fuel cycle work in order to guarantee it will not acquire nuclear weapons.

The EU-3 are seeking "objective guarantees" that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons or press on with the capacity to make them -- and want Iran to abandon its work on the nuclear fuel cycle, especially uranium enrichment.

Enrichment is a process which makes nuclear fuel but can also be the explosive core of atomic bombs. Iran says it only wants to generate atomic energy, and argues such work is therefore authorised by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Rafsanjani said stripping Iran of its right to operate the fuel cycle was tantamount to "arrogance, pride, bullying, monopolisation and discrimination" on the part of the West, and claimed that Iran "will certainly not refrain from its right."

And speaking on state television, national security official and nuclear negotiator Hossein Moussavian reiterated that Iran "does not accept cooperation beyond the IAEA's additional protocol and NPT."

Iran insists it only wants to generate atomic energy, but the United States says the country is after nuclear weapons and is "cynically" manipulating a loophole in the NPT.

In return for a permanent halt to enrichment, the EU is offering Iran a package of incentives covering trade, security and technology.

But Iran's Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari poured cold water on one tangible proposal that Iran be allowed to join the World Trade Organisation.

"Whether the United States and Europe accept it or not, this is not a favour to Iran and they cannot demand something from Iran in return," he was quoted as saying by the student news agency ISNA.

The minister said Iran joining the WTO would merely benefit the United States and the EU by giving them "freer access" to the Iranian market.

The United States, which has consistently vetoed Iran's membership of the 148-member pact, is also reportedly considering reversing its position in order to boost the European diplomatic effort.

But Shariatmadari said that if Iran were to join the bloc, it was the EU and United States "who should be providing some privileges to us," adding that Iran "is not very willing to join the WTO under the current circumstances."

On Thursday US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States backed the European initiative but argued Tehran had shown "no indication" it was ready to deal and could still face UN action.

Rice said the level of Iran's cooperation with the IAEA "is something of an indicator of whether or not the Iranians are indeed ready to be involved in the kind of activities, the kind of negotiations, the EU-3 is trying to conduct."

The IAEA's 35-nation board called on Iran Thursday to do more to cooperate with UN inspectors but also backed the EU-Iran talks, which resume in Geneva next week.

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