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Europe

Iranian Hard-liners Reject EU Nuclear Offer

Conservative Iranian parliamentarians on Saturday denounced Europe's call for Iran to halt all uranium enrichment activities if it wants to avoid the threat of UN sanctions over its nuclear activities.

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Iran is building a heavy-water reactor with Russian help

"The European proposal is an excessive demand that is contrary to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and unacceptable," Alaeddin Brujerdi, the influential head of parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, told the conservative newspaper Ressalat.

Britain, France and Germany presented Iran with a deal Thursday aimed at avoiding possible sanctions under which Tehran would receive valuable nuclear technology if it indefinitely suspended all uranium enrichment activities, according to a document prepared by the Europeans.

But Brujerdi also raised the possibility that the conservative-controlled parliament could pass a bill forcing Iran to halt its suspension of uranium enrichment in defiance of the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"The European offer is a denial of the Iranian nation's legal rights bestowed under the NPT," Brujerdi said. "The Islamic republic of Iran will not accept a (Western) monopoly on nuclear technology and will pursue its activities with determination."

Thursday's meeting was to give Iran a last chance to disclose its complete nuclear program before the IAEA decides on November 25 whether Iran is cooperating with it on Tehran's nuclear activities. The United States wants the IAEA, which since February 2003 has been investigating US claims that Iran has a covert nuclear weapons program, to refer Tehran to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

Only for electricity?

Die Wiege der iranischen Atombombe

Tehran has long insisted it is seeking only to generate electricity and on its right to uranium enrichment, which makes fuel for civilian reactors but can also manufacture the explosive material for atomic bombs. Under the European deal, Iran would receive technology including a light-water reactor which would produce less fissionable material than the heavy-water reactor Tehran is planning to build with Russian help in Bushehr.

"The enrichment of uranium is a question of national dignity and no-one can force the leaders of the country to renounce it, said Hamid Reza Hadji-Babaie, an MP and member of the speaker's office. "The negotiations were positive but the Europeans must take account of our red lines, that is Iran's refusal to renounce the nuclear fuel cycle."

The official state news agency IRNA quoted an anonymous diplomat in Vienna saying that the next round of talks between Iran and the European Three would start Wednesday. A report published this week by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a military and defense think tank, said that assuming Iran lifts the suspension on its enrichment program, "it is still probably a few years away from full scale production of enough enriched uranium for a small nuclear arsenal."

Forcing the reformers

On October 5, the parliamentary committee headed by Brujerdi approved a bill that would force the reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami to resume uranium enrichment in defiance of the IAEA. If eventually passed in the Majlis (parliament) and approved by legislative watchdogs, it would almost certainly prompt the IAEA to refer Iran's case to the Security Council.

"The plan to oblige the government to resume enrichment has the support of 238 deputies" out of a total 290, Brujerdi said Saturday.

Ali Akbar Salehi

Ali Akbar Salehi

Iran's former representative to the IAEA, Ali-Akbar Salehi, said the European proposals contained both positive and negative points, and urged the country's leaders to examine them without hesitation. "I believe the two sides do not want to reach a deadlock. So the Europeans must move some way towards our position," Salehi told the AFP news agency.

But another conservative MP dismissed the European offer. "A light-water reactor is useable only for medical and agricultural needs but a heavy-water reactor can also produce plutonium for use in nuclear power plants," another MP Heshmatollah Falahat-Pisheh said, quoted by the conservative Kayhan newspaper.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Saturday that Washington had seen no sign that Iran would comply with international demands on its nuclear program and would push next month for the matter to be sent to the UN Security Council unless Tehran reversed its course.

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