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. US rejects Iranian proposal for limited uranium enrichment
WASHINGTON (AFP) Mar 30, 2005
The United States on Wednesday challenged Iran to prove it was serious in talks on its suspected nuclear weapons program and rejected Tehran's offer to conduct only limited uranium enrichment activities.

Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli refused to discuss whether the European-led talks were making progress in reining in Iran's nuclear ambitions. But the tenor of his remarks was far from upbeat.

"We're trying to achieve something," Ereli said. "Have we achieved it today? No, we haven't. And don't ask me to assess the likelihood of achieving it tomorrow because I can't."

He said that if the Iranians decide not to cooperate, "the good news is that we, the Europeans and the international community are more on the same page than we've ever been."

Britain, France and Germany are spearheading an effort to persuade Iran to renounce suspected efforts to develop a nuclear bomb in return for trade, technology and security benefits.

Ereli spoke after Iranian President Mohammad Khatami took reporters on an unprecedented tour Wednesday of the Islamic republic's closely guarded nuclear sites and vowed never abandon its drive to enrich uranium.

"Our response," Ereli said, "is that if Iran were really serious about demonstrating transparency in its nuclear program, it should answer all of the International Atomic Energy Agency's outstanding questions."

"If Iran were really serious about allaying the concerns of the international community, they would stop denying IAEA full and unrestricted access to suspicious sites," he said.

He called on Iran allow key nuclear officials to be interviewed by the IAEA and to come clean about its centrifuge program to enrich uranium as well as past efforts to extract plutonium as potential nuclear fuel.

"The point here is that if there is a commitment to transparency, there are real, effective, meaningful ways to demonstrate that commitment, beyond a staged media event like is being reported."

Khatami told reporters the Europeans were studying an offer by Iran to scale down its enrichment activities to the use of some 500 centrifuges. But Ereli rejected the idea.

"We and the EU-3 remain united in the view that only a full cessation and dismantling of Iran's sensitive nuclear fuel cycle pursuits can provide the kind of confidence we're looking for that Iran has abandoned its nuclear weapons program," he said.

The latest round of EU-Iran talks ended in Vienna last week with no signs of movement. But Ereli sidestepped repeated questions about whether progress was being made, saying it was up to the European to make the assessment.

He said the Iranians had a choice: "Either make decisions that are characteristic of a responsible member of the international community, or find yourself further isolated and further ostracized."

The United States joined the European effort to try to wean Iran off its nuclear hopes after earlier pushing to take the matter before the United Nations for possible sanctions. Washington has also not ruled out using force.

A senior State Department official, who asked not to be named, said the administration was determined to give the Europeans all the time they thought they needed to play out the negotiations with Iran.

"I would say these talks have not yet produced the end of their program, but the Europeans are continuing to engage and we'll let them decide when they think they're no longer useful," he said.

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