Reuters: Iran will not abandon uranium enrichment, despite its negotiations with the European Union on its nuclear programme, a senior official said on Sunday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Iran would never renounce its right to carry out the process, but was hopeful about the outcome of the talks with Europe. Reuters

TEHRAN - Iran will not abandon uranium enrichment, despite its negotiations with the European Union on its nuclear programme, a senior official said on Sunday.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Iran would never renounce its right to carry out the process, but was hopeful about the outcome of the talks with Europe.

Britain, France and Germany, representing the European Union, have been trying to persuade Tehran to scrap all parts of its atomic fuel cycle, particularly uranium enrichment which can be used to make atomic bombs as well as fuel for power plants.

Asefi said uranium enrichment was Iran's legitimate right, reiterating comments made almost daily by Iranian officials.

"Iran will never give up its (uranium) enrichment activities," Asefi told a weekly news conference.

Washington, which suspects Iran of using civilian atomic power as cover for a weapons programme, backs the talks but wants Iran to give up its disputed nuclear activities.

Iran, which insists its atomic ambitions are entirely peaceful, has agreed to suspend uranium enrichment while the talks with the EU continue but insists the freeze is temporary.

"Iran's uranium enrichment suspension is only for a short period of time," Asefi said. "It will be until reaching an agreement with the EU."

The European Union says that if Iran resumes enrichment, it will support a U.S. plan to refer Tehran to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose economic sanctions.

Officials from Britain, France, Germany and Iran are to meet later this month to continue the talks.

Asefi said Iran was hopeful about the next meeting, saying: "The prospect of the talks is more positive than before."

"We hope to reach a clear solution at the next meeting on April 19," Asefi said.

He denied reports of Iran purchasing 12 cruise missiles from Ukraine.

The Financial Times newspaper last month quoted Ukraine's prosecutor-general as saying that 18 X-55 cruise missiles, were exported in 2001 to Iran and China. It said none were exported with the nuclear warheads they were designed to carry.

"The government, the foreign and other ministries have not made such a deal with Ukraine," Asefi said.