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. Iran claims stronger position in nuclear talks after election
TEHRAN (AFP) Jun 26, 2005
Iran moved Sunday to allay fears its new ultra-conservative president Mahmood Ahmadinejad could doom nuclear talks with the European Union but added it was now in a stronger negotiating position.

"The nuclear issue is a part of a macro policy, and our position will not change with the change of a president," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters.

But he added: "With this election, the Islamic republic of Iran is more capable of confronting challenges, and the Europeans have to take this into consideration."

Iran has frozen its fuel cycle work and has entered into long-term talks with Britain, France and Germany, who are trying to convince Iran to abandon such activities altogether in a "Libya-style deal" that offers incentives in return.

At the core of the nuclear issue is Iran's ambition to make its own nuclear fuel by enriching uranium, a process that can also be used to make the core of a nuclear bomb. Iran insists it only wants to generate electricity.

"We will not give up our right," Asefi said, repeating Iran's demand to end the freeze. "We will reach bright results through negotiations."

While the victory of Revolutionary Guards veteran Ahmadinejad has come as a shock, seen as equally damaging to the prospects of the kind of deal Britain, France and Germany are seeking is the humiliating defeat and uncertain future for moderate cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

In the wake of such a stunning loss at the polls, Rafsanjani's ability to exert a moderating influence within the regime hierarchy -- and particularly with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei -- looks in doubt.

The next round of talks is scheduled for late July, when the Europeans are obliged to put forward a proposal for a deal but certain not to satisfy Iran's demands to resume enrichment.

"We are waiting for a European proposal. Our right should be acknowledged. The suspension is voluntary and temporary," Asefi said.

Rafsanjani, an ex-president and savvy deal-maker, was widely viewed as a more liberal negotiating partner -- as was his key loyalist and top negotiator Hassan Rowhani who remains in place for the time being.

"The negotiators are elected at a high level and they will follow the same course as before. It is not worrisome," Asefi said.

The president is only Iran's number-two on paper, and often lower than that in practice -- but Ahmadinejad's win bolsters the ranks of right-wingers who argue that Iran has a "legitimate right" to press on with nuclear work and, more importantly, should do so regardless of the consequences.

Before his election he complained that "those who are handling the talks are terrified and, before they even sit down at the negotiating table, they retreat 500 kilometres (more than 300 miles)" -- a clear snipe at Rowhani's team.

"A popular and fundamentalist government will quickly change that," he said, boasting that "no country, no matter how powerful they are, can attack Iran."

His election win has aroused worries overseas.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw demanded that Iran take "early steps to address international concerns about its nuclear programme", while his German counterpart Joschka Fischer said Iran had to show its atomic plans were only for peaceful purposes.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said he hoped "the newly elected Iranian authorities will continue the work that we European diplomats began with the aim of suspending nuclear activities".

But Asefi hit back.

"The Europeans and Mr Straw should give their nuclear proposal as soon as possible, which includes Iran's right to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes," he said.

"They should stop making inappropriate comments. They should send respectful congratulatory messages to Iran. People have freely chosen their president. The Europeans should respect our democracy."

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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