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. Iran backs enrichment as government demands commitments from Europe
TEHRAN (AFP) Oct 31, 2004
Iran's parliament passed a bill on Sunday backing the resumption of uranium enrichment, as the government left the door open for further negotiations with Europe over the controversial practice.

The vote by the parliament was largely symbolic, but the foreign ministry offered hope for negotiations this week in Paris with European countries, calling for concrete commitments if the Islamic Republic were to abandon uranium enrichment.

"We are expecting from them (Europe) a calendar of cooperation and we will insist on that point," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters.

"We expect that in the course of this (Paris) meeting the Europeans will specify their precise commitments, concrete and clear, and the Islamic Republic will take the best decision in line with its own interests," he added.

Meanwhile in the conservative-dominated parliament the 247 lawmakers present out of a total of 290 "all approved the text", backing enrichment, parliament president Gholam Ali Hadad Adel said. The motion was passed to calls of "Death to America."

He described the vote as a "message addressed to foreign countries that parliament will not give in to intimidation". The text tells the government "to take action for the country to master civilian nuclear technology, especially in the fuel production cycle".

"If this text is adopted, Iran will have to set a date for an end to the suspension of enrichment," Allaeddin Borujerdi, head of the parliament's national security and foreign affairs committee, had said before the debate.

"We are going to take back the right that was taken away from us," he added later on.

But should the government resume enriching uranium, it would almost certainly mean that Iran would be hauled up before the UN Security Council to answer about its nuclear activities.

Iran agreed in October 2003 to a request from Britain, France and Germany for it to suspend uranium enrichment, but has since started to manufacture parts of centrifuges that could be used to enrich uranium.

Depending on the level of purification, enriched uranium can be used either as fuel for a civilian reactor or as the explosive core of a nuclear bomb. Iran insists it only wants to generate electricity, rejecting US allegations it is seeking nuclear weapons.

Some of the more hardline lawmakers in the parliament said that the text did not go far enough.

"It asks the government to master nuclear technology while the government has already announced that we do master this technology," said deputy Said Abu Taleb.

"This law would have been good two months ago but it no longer has any value as the time has now passed. We must present a law that effectively ends the suspension of enrichment," he added.

The vote came as representatives from Germany, Britain and France are to meet Iranian officials on Friday in Paris to try to convince Tehran to renounce uranium enrichment and stave off the threat of being brought before the UN Security Council.

The three European countries are trying to thrash out a deal with Iran that they hope will ensure the country is not referred to the Security Council when the UN atomic agency meets in a crucial session in November.

Asefi said that "certain progress" had been made compared with the week earlier, when he had described proposals put forward by the Europeans for a deal as "unbalanced".

"Offering Iran a supply of fuel is a positive step, which we welcome, but this must not deprive Iran of its right to nuclear technology for peaceful reasons," he said.

He urged the Europeans to "clarify what they mean" by saying a suspension of uranium enrichment will last until a long term deal is agreed.

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