Iran 'willing to negotiate over nuclear programme'

Iran today said it was still willing to negotiate with the international community over its nuclear programme – but dismissed its referral by the UN nuclear watchdog to the Security Council.

“The door for negotiations is still open,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a morning press conference.

“We don’t fear the Security Council. It’s not the end of the world.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency yesterday reported Iran to the UN Security Council over fears it wants to produce nuclear arms.

Iran responded by saying it would no longer allow IAEA inspections of its facilities and vowed to restart full-scale work on uranium enrichment.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad mocked the IAEA referral.

“Issue as many resolutions like this as you want and make yourself happy. You can’t prevent the progress of the Iranian nation,” he said in comments carried by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

“In the name of the IAEA they want to visit all our nuclear facilities and learn our defence capabilities, but we won’t allow them to do this,” Ahmadinejad said.

In the past, Iran had allowed short-notice, intrusive inspections of its facilities, including military sites.

But parliament passed a law late last year requiring the government to block intrusive inspections of Iran’s facilities if the country is put before the Security Council. It also required the government to resume all suspended nuclear activities, chief among them, uranium enrichment.

Asefi reiterated that Iran would cooperate with the IAEA within the framework of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and the Safeguard Agreement.

“We chose our way wisely. We have solutions for all situations that may develop. Referring Iran to the Security Council will definitely harm the other party more than Iran,” Asefi said.

Of the IAEA’s 35 member nations, 27 voted Saturday for referral, reflecting more than two years of intense lobbying by the US and its allies to enlist broad backing for such a move. Washington critics Cuba, Venezuela and Syria voted against, and the rest abstained.

Iran says it wants to enrich only to make nuclear fuel, but concerns that it might misuse the technology accelerated the chain of events that led to yesterday’s referral to the UN Security Council, after Tehran took IAEA seals off enrichment equipment January 10 and said it would resume small-scale activities.

Washington and European governments expressed support for the referral, which came through a resolution drafted by France, Britain and Germany on behalf of the EU.

“The path chosen by Iran’s new leaders – threats, concealment, and breaking international agreements and IAEA seals – will not succeed and will not be tolerated by the international community,” US President George Bush said in a statement. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said “the world will not stand by if Iran continues on the path to a nuclear weapons capability.”

The resolution links the decision to ask for Tehran’s referral to the country’s breaches of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and lack of confidence that it is not trying to make weapons.

The text expresses “serious concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.” It recalls “Iran’s many failures and breaches of its obligations” to the non-proliferation treaty. It expresses “the absence of confidence that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.”

It requests IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei to ”report to the Security Council” with steps Iran needs to take to dispel suspicions about its nuclear ambitions.

These include that it return to freezing uranium enrichment; consider stopping construction of a heavy-water reactor that could be the source of plutonium; ratify the agreement allowing the IAEA greater inspecting authority and give the nuclear watchdog more power to investigate Iran’s nuclear program.

The draft also asks that ElBaradei provide the Security Council with his report to the March 6 IAEA board session, along with any resolution that meeting might approve.

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