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. Iran draws back from brink over nuclear programme
TEHRAN (AFP) Aug 03, 2005
Iran on Wednesday pulled back from an earlier announcement it planned an imminent resumption of ultra-sensitive nuclear activities, amid warnings that such a move would spark an international crisis.

Top nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani said Iran wanted to resume contested uranium conversion activities by Saturday after officials earlier suggested it hoped to restart the process Wednesday, ending a nine-month freeze.

Iran's intention to resume uranium conversion, the precursor to enrichment, has caused grave concern in European countries which have warned Tehran could be hauled before the UN Security Council and face possible sanctions.

The latest manoeuvering came as new ultra-conservative President Mahmood Ahmadinejad, who many diplomats fear will further toughen Iran's nuclear stance, took office.

"We hope to resume (uranium conversion) by the start of next week," Rowhani told state television. The week starts on Saturday in Iran.

Earlier, nuclear negotiator Ali Agha Mohammadi had said: "I hope to remove the seals and resume activities today," referring to seals placed by international nuclear inspectors on the Isfahan plant in central Iran.

However there was still no sign that Iran was reconsidering its decision to resume conversion activities and appeared to be merely adjusting its timetable in line with a call by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Rowhani expressed his indignation over a warning by Britain France and Germany that they would call "in the next few days" an emergency meeting in Vienna of the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors, the body that would send the Iranian nuclear dossier to the Security Council.

"The three European ministers have said that if we restart (the Isfahan plant) this would mean the end of negotiations. This is a threat, this is unacceptable," said Rowhani.

"There is no judicial or political logic to send the issue to the Security Council, this would mean that the Europeans have given in to US pressure and they must assume the consequences," he said.

"Once the Isfahan plant restarts, we want to continue the negotiations with the Europeans."

However it remains to be seen what the future holds for the talks between Iran and the European Union, which saw the nine-month-old suspension of conversion as a key goodwill gesture from Tehran.

Reaffirming the expressions of concern that have come from Europe in the past days, the EU Commission said relations between the European Union and Iran have reached a "critical stage".

The United States accuses Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear bomb and the months of tortuous talks between the EU and Iran had been designed at reaching a deal that would give Iran a nuclear cooperation in return for guarantees its atomic programme was peaceful.

US officials said the Europeans would reveal their proposals -- already dismissed by Iran as too little too late -- at the weekend.

Ahmadinejad, who ever since his shock June election victory has pledged to lead a government of moderation, eschewed making any explicit comment on the nuclear programme and confined himself to vaguer rhetoric.

In his address, Ahmadinejad said: "I will plead for the suppression of all weapons of mass destruction.

"As servant of the Iranian nation, I want to defend its independence, our national interests and the religion of Islam. I want to defend the interests of citizens both inside and outside the country," he said.

Supreme leader Ali Khamenei said Iran's enemies, led by the "Great Satan" the United States, knew that Iran would never give in to "blackmail".

"Iranian leaders have no right to give up the nation's economic and political rights. These rights must be defended," Khamenei said.

The IAEA, whose inspectors are currently in Iran on a routine mission, said it would take a week for its team to put in place the necessary checks to monitor Iran's resumption of the uranium conversion.

"The agency calls on Iran again not to start any activities in Isfahan before the IAEA inspection system is in place," IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said in a statement.

A diplomat close to the IAEA said inspectors had refused an Iranian request on Sunday for the seals -- wires covered by a metal IAEA insignia -- to be cut.

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