Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Reuters | Latest Financial News / Full News Coverage

Reuters | Latest Financial News / Full News Coverage: "Iran issues nuclear warning
Wed 10 November, 2004 12:47

By Paul Hughes

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran will pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and develop its atomic programme in secret if Western nations threaten or put pressure on Tehran, a senior Iran diplomat has been quoted as saying.

Iranian government officials have in the past repeatedly said Tehran had no intention of following North Korea's example of withdrawing from the NPT.

Diplomats expect Iran to announce shortly that it has agreed to suspend nuclear fuel cycle activities which could be used to make bomb material as part of a deal with the European Union to avoid referral to the U.N. Security Council.

But Sirus Naseri, a member of the Iranian negotiating team in the talks with the EU, warned Iran -- which says its atomic programme is strictly for civilian use -- could take drastic steps if the talks did not proceed as Tehran wants.

"If they start to pressure or threaten us, then we will put aside the treaty and go underground," the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted him as saying on Wednesday.

"In that case, after one or two years, America and the EU will send mediators to talk to us and find a solution," he said.

Iran says it has the right as an NPT signatory to develop an atomic programme to generate electricity to meet booming demand.

But Washington and Israel say Tehran's real ambition is to make nuclear weapons and want it to scrap activities that could be used to make bomb-grade material, such as uranium enrichment.

The EU says that if Iran scraps its enrichment facilities it will guarantee a supply of fuel for its reactors.

SUPENSION YES, CESSATION NO

But Naseri said Iran "will never rely on other countries to supply us with the nuclear fuel, which means we will definitely keep our enrichment programme."

"We will never accept cessation (of enrichment). This issue has been removed from the talks' agenda," he added.

He said a preliminary deal reached during talks with the EU last weekend would ease international pressure on Iran, which faces possible U.N. Security Council sanctions should it fail to suspend uranium enrichment and fuel reprocessing activities.

"This agreement will provide us with a peaceful period, which we needed," he said.

"Acting properly and reaching an understanding with the EU ... will strengthen Iran's international status. Otherwise we would be put in a difficult situation," he said.

But he said Iran would resume enrichment if it felt the EU was dragging its feet on a final settlement. And he said Iran could use the suspension time to review and perfect its nuclear technology.

"Normally when you resume an activity it will be of a higher quality than before," he said.

His comments are likely to fuel concerns in Washington that Iran is using its negotiations with the EU to buy time and ease international pressure while continuing to develop its atomic programme in secret.

But Naseri said Washington had the final say on the EU deal.

"We know that the main party, absent in the talks, is America ... we know that the EU must coordinate with America and they themselves are not the decision-makers," he said.

He said Iran was prepared to talk to Washington directly if it treated Tehran as an equal.

"If one day America understands that we are at the same level, then we can hold direct talks with America. But right now, we do not see America having such an attitude," he said."

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