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2006 Sunday 21 May

Iran says it will not suspend uranium enrichment

TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran has said it would not suspend uranium enrichment despite European Union plans to offer incentives to the Islamic republic if it halts the sensitive nuclear work.

"We cannot retreat. The proposal should provide ways to secure our rights," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters Sunday. "We will not stop enrichment.

"The basis of our work is that the Islamic republic of Iran's rights must be recognised in any plan," Asefi added.

In their latest bid to defuse escalating international tensions over Iran's disputed nuclear drive, Britain, France and Germany are preparing a package of trade, technology and security benefits if Tehran stops enriching uranium.

Iran says it wants to enrich only to make reactor fuel, although the process can be extended to make weapons. The United States in particular accuses Iran of using an atomic energy drive as a mask for acquiring an atomic bomb.

A draft proposal by the so-called EU-3 says world powers should support Iran's building several light water reactors and set up a nuclear fuel bank that would guarantee the country access to reactor fuel but not the sensitive fuel cycle technology.

It would also have the United States drop restrictions on Iran's buying US commercial airplanes or parts.

But if Tehran does not accept the deal, sanctions should follow.

These punitive measures could include an arms embargo, political and economic measures, a visa and travel ban on selected high-ranking officials and a freeze of assets of individuals and organisations connected to or close to the regime.

Asefi said it would be "hasty to comment on a raw proposal that has been brought up in the media, and still neither officially nor unofficially given to us."

But he also repeated Iran's view that any economic sanctions would leave its foreign trading partners worse off.

"We have broad trade and economic ties with European and non-European countries. These ties can be damaged and this damage will harm European countries even more," Asefi said.

"It is a pity that these relations are challenged because of indiscretion in the nuclear case."

Right-wing Iranian newspapers were also unimpressed by the European proposals, with one influential daily dismissing the cited incentives as "worthless".

"Worthless incentives, repetitious threats," headlined the Kayhan newspaper, whose editor is appointed by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"America and Europe should know that Iran will not exchange gold for chocolate," the conservative Resalat paper wrote in an editorial, repeating a metaphor used last week by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The four-page draft proposal is due to be discussed among the EU-3, plus China, Russia and the United States in London next Wednesday.

The Security Council had asked Iran on March 29 to heed International Atomic Energy Agency calls for it to suspend its enrichment work and also to cooperate fully with a three-year-old IAEA investigation, which has so far been unable to determine whether the Iranian nuclear programme is peaceful or weapons-related.

"I have to admit that after two and a half years of negotiations, we are not as far along as we would like to be," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Sunday during a visit to Kuwait.

"The situation requires not only creativity on our part, but also more flexibility on the Iranian side."

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