Iran voices new defiance over nuclear programme

A leading hardliner in the Iranian regime voiced new defiance over moves to refer its N-programme to the UNSC.
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Published on Feb 17, 2006 07:06 PM IST
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None | ByFarhad Pouladi (AFP), Tehran

A leading hardliner in the Iranian regime voiced new defiance on Friday over moves to refer its nuclear programme to the UN Security Council as British Prime Minister Tony Blair held Berlin talks to address the West's response.

Ayatollah Ahmad Janati, who heads the Guardians' Council, a top constitutional watchdog body, warned Western countries that they would be the losers if they took on the Islamic republic.

"If you act crazy, rest assured that you will lose more than us," Janati said in prayer sermon carried live by state television.

"They say we will take you to the UN Security Council, I call it the 'Council for Removing Security'," he said.

"They are using it as a scarecrow to frighten nations, but our people will remain firm," he said to shouts of "Nuclear technology is our undeniable right" from the faithful.

The UN nuclear watchdog reported Iran to the Security Council on February 4 but on the understanding that discussions would be left on hold for a month to allow more time for diplomacy.

Tehran responded by ending a more than two-year suspension of uranium enrichment, the highly sensitive process that can make the fuel for a nuclear reactor but in sustained form can also make the fissile core of an atom bomb.

Some officials have since played down the significance of the renewed enrichment, insisting that only a "limited number" of centrifuges were being operated at Iran's plant near the central town of Natanz.

"Yes, we have injected uranium hexafluoride gas into a limited number of centrifuge machines, but it is even less than is needed for a pilot project," said Atomic Energy Organisation director Gholam Reza Aghazadeh.

"To get enriched uranium with 3.5 per cent purity, you need to employ 164 machines, and I should say we are not at that stage yet. It could take several months for us to reach that point," he said.

"Even employing 3,000 is still considered a pilot project."

Publicly, European and US officials alike have firmly rejected the idea of Iran being allowed to carry out any uranium enrichment.

Iran had "crossed a red line" with its resumption, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after her talks with Blair.

But privately, Western diplomats have conceded that a compromise is necessary given the lack of appetite among some permanent members of the Security Council for imposing sanctions and that it is likely to involve allowing Tehran to carry out some small scale-enrichment.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki is to meet European foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Brussels Monday, Solana's office announced.

During a visit to Beirut on Friday, Mottaki drew new fire from London with a call for it to withdraw its 8,000 troops from southern Iraq.

"What I would say to the Iranians is that there is no point in trying to divert attention from the issues to do with Iran by calling into question the British presence in Iraq which is there with a UN mandate and Iraqi support," Blair retorted at a joint news conference with Merkel.

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