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Iran Says Nuclear Offer Final Chance

AFP | November 9 2005

Iran's top nuclear official warned Tuesday an offer to resume stalled atomic talks with Europe was his final attempt to salvage negotiations, insisting Tehran would never renounce its demand to enrich uranium.

Ali Larijani told the BBC his offer in a letter on Sunday to the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany to pick up the talks was "our last word to the Europeans".

European foreign ministers have said they are studying the proposal but have yet to indicate if they will accept the offer, the first since Larijani became hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's pointman on the nuclear dossier.

However Larijani's letter makes clear that Tehran has no intention of dropping its demand to enrich uranium as part of a full nuclear fuel cycle -- the key sticking point in the tortuous negotiating process with Europe.

It says Iran has a "certain and indisputable right to have access to full nuclear fuel cycle and enrichment capability for peaceful purposes such as research, medical, genetics, agricultural and similar applications."

In a first reaction to the letter Monday, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Iran must heed an International Atomic Energy Agency resolution passed in September demanding a renewed freeze on all activity related to uranium enrichment.

But in a later statement Tuesday, Larijani angrily rejected Straw's call.

"The various parts of this declaration were put together with an extremist outlook and I'm against them," the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.

"The Europeans want to harm the Iranian people's will and determination by putting psychological pressure on Iran but they are making a mistake," he said.

Larijani acknowledged that Straw's comments were not an official response to his letter, which had yet to be received, but he warned that negotiation was not the only way forward for Iran.

"From our point of view, negotiation is not the sole solution for settling the nuclear problem but it is one of the ways," he said.

"The letter we sent to the Europeans was aimed at showing that Iran was exploring all peaceful ways to guarantee the national rights of Iranians."

The Iranian request for new talks came three weeks before a November 24 meeting of the IAEA which could theoretically send Iran to the Security Council.

The European Union has been trying to persuade Iran to permanently suspend uranium enrichment, as well as its precursor conversion, as a watertight guarantee that its nuclear programme is peaceful and sees it as a condition for reopening the stalled talks.

Iran had already defied the Europeans by resuming uranium ore conversion in August, a move which brought the already stuttering talks to a grinding halt.

It is still observing a suspension on enriching uranium, but has repeatedly made clear this will not last forever.

"Our strategy is that we have to achieve nuclear technology and the resumption of... conversion is a sign that Iran is determined to master nuclear technology," Larijani told the BBC.

On enrichment, he said: "Absolutely it is part of our programme. We are not stopping short of enrichment.

"Through the language of force and threats you cannot persuade Iran to give up this right."

Enriched uranium is used as the fuel for power stations but in highly enriched form can also form the explosive core of a nuclear bomb.

Whether Larijani's approach will be enough to save Iran from being sent to the UN Security Council remains to be seen. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste Blazy said Monday such an option was still being kept open.

However Europe and the United States may have their work cut out to secure a Security Council referral with Russia expected to oppose such a move and China unconvinced.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei on Monday called for increased transparency from Iran after it had concealed the extent of its atomic programme for 18 years.

But he also acknowledged that "we are making progress," referring to additional information offered recently and access given to UN inspectors to visit key nuclear sites.

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