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. Iran must beware of 'cunning' Britain in nuclear talks, says cleric
TEHRAN (AFP) Feb 04, 2005
A top Iranian cleric warned the government Friday to beware of Britain in Tehran's nuclear negotiations with three European powers, saying it was trying to force Iran to give up sensitive technology.

"In reality the English are the father of the Great Satan," Ayatollah Ahmad Janati said in a sermon during Friday prayers, using the term hardliners employ to describe Iran's arch-enemy the United States.

He said the British were "leaders in being cunning, so we have to be very careful."

"The English are saying 'there is no need for US bullying, we will make Iran retreat step by step'," said Janati, a hardline cleric who sits at the head of the Guardians Council, a powerful political oversight body.

Accused by Washington of trying to build an atomic bomb, Iran has suspended uranium enrichment as a confidence-building measure during talks with the European Union's "big three" -- Britain, France and Germany.

But the three have recently hardened their stance, calling on Tehran to commit itself to abandoning work on the nuclear fuel cycle, including enrichment, a process that can make fuel for nuclear reactors as well as the explosive core of atomic bombs.

In return for "objective guarantees" that Iran will not seek a nuclear weapon, the European Union is offering a package of diplomatic, trade, technology and security incentives.

Janati also told the United States to ease its harsh rhetoric against Iran, telling Washington that "the more Iran is threatened, the more Iranians will remain committed to their animosity towards America."

On Wednesday, during his State of the Union address, US President George W. Bush charged that Iran "remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror -- pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve."

While the president recently said he favored the use of diplomacy to stop Iran's nuclear development, Bush has also said he could not rule out the use of force if Tehran failed to rein in its nuclear plans.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday that a pre-emptive strike against Iran was "not on the agenda at this point in time".

"We have many diplomatic tools still at our disposal and we intend to pursue them fully," she said in London after talks with British counterpart Jack Straw.

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