June 12, 2006

Iran insists on “nuclear rights” as IAEA meets

By Mark Heinrich and Emma Thomasson

VIENNA (Reuters) - The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog
said on Monday Iran was still resisting investigation into its
disputed atomic program as pressure grew on Tehran to respond
to a diplomatic overture from world powers.

As the governing board of the International Atomic Energy
Agency (IAEA) met in Vienna, Iran insisted on its right to
enrich uranium but did not reject outright the offer of
incentives made by U.N. Security Council powers last week.

"I would continue to urge Iran to provide the cooperation
needed to resolve these issues," IAEA director Mohamed
ElBaradei told the meeting. "I remain convinced that the way
forward lies through dialogue and mutual accommodation."

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who
visited Tehran last week to hand over the package of trade,
technological and security incentives for Iran to halt nuclear
fuel work, said he expected a response soon.

Solana, speaking to reporters at an EU foreign ministers'
meeting in Luxembourg, said he hoped for contact with the
Islamic Republic, at least privately, by the weekend.

A State Department official, who asked not to be
identified, said Iran must not be allowed to mull over the
offer endlessly while expanding a pilot uranium-enrichment
program until it becomes a fait accompli.

"We cannot let Iran consider these terms indefinitely,
saying they are prepared to enter negotiations but at the same
time just continuing their nuclear activities," he told
reporters outside the IAEA board session in Vienna.

Diplomats said the 35-nation IAEA board would debate Iran
but pass no resolutions, to avoid any diplomatic upset while
Tehran considered an answer to the big power initiative.

Iranian government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham on Monday
restated Tehran's non-negotiable requirement for any
negotiations, rejected by the powers: "We have obtained this
technology, it is our obvious right and we do not negotiate
over our obvious nuclear rights."


Last week the United States, France, Germany, Britain,
Russia and China offered Iran incentives to stop enrichment.

Iran says its nuclear project aims to produce low-enriched
uranium to generate electricity. The West suspects Iran, with
the world's second largest reserves of oil and gas, is bent on
enriching uranium to the level used to make atomic bombs.

President Bush has said Iran has weeks, not months, to
decide whether to accept the deal.

"The G8 foreign ministers' meeting at the end of the month
will obviously be a time to see where we stand with Iran," the
State Department official said.

Ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized countries
meet on June 29-30 ahead of a G8 summit on July 15-17.

The nuclear dispute intensified in February when the IAEA
referred Tehran to the Security Council over its history of
hiding atomic research and obstructing IAEA investigations.

Iran could face sanctions in the Council if it refuses to
halt its enrichment program.

The U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, speaking just before the
board convened, said the ball was in Iran's court.

"The United States and other members of the IAEA board hope
this will be a decision to refrain from further
enrichment-related and reprocessing activities including
research and development, and to take advantage of the enormous
diplomatic opportunities that lie in front of the Islamic
Republic," Gregory Schulte told journalists.

Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, earlier
urged the body to avoid "politically motivated statements that
could spoil the environment" for a diplomatic solution.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, said on
Sunday the precondition on enrichment had to be clarified.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry has said Tehran will send its
own counter-proposals to the international incentive package.

Western diplomats say the deal includes a light-water
reactor and an atomic fuel storage facility, as well as a rare
U.S. offer to join the European Union's direct talks with Iran.

Western leaders have in the past ruled out allowing Iran
any domestic nuclear fuel program. However, the new package
would allow for one after an open-ended halt to enrichment
work, probably lasting years, and under full IAEA surveillance.

"No one is expecting fireworks. The priority is not to
distract from the package on the table for Iran -- the best
chance, maybe the last one, for a non-confrontational
solution," said an IAEA diplomat, speaking on condition of

(Additional reporting by Alireza Ronaghi in Tehran and Mark
John in Brussels)