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. Iran nuclear chief vows to press on with fuel work
TEHRAN (AFP) Aug 16, 2005
Iran's new hardline nuclear boss Ali Larijani vowed Tehran will press on with nuclear fuel work as protestors Tuesday formed a human chain at a processing plant at the centre of its standoff with the West.

Larijani signaled in his first interview since being named Monday as Supreme National Security Council head that Iran would not roll back its August 8 resumption of uranium conversion but that he wanted to continue talks with the European Union.

"Iran does not accept the resolution" which the International Atomic Energy Organisation (IAEA) passed last week urging Tehran to suspend all such activities, he told the Shargh newspaper.

The Europeans "must understand that the Iranian government is determined to preserve the nuclear fuel production cycle", said Larijani, who took over from pragmatist Hassan Rowhani.

"We insist on Natanz," Iran's uranium enrichment plant, "but this must go through the channel of negotiations," he said.

He acknowledged it was "theoretically possible" that the Islamic republic could be referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions over its controversial nuclear activities.

A programme published Tuesday said the new government would press on with the "full acquisition of the technology for producing nuclear fuel for peaceful ends and the necessary investment to make the country independent in the field of nuclear technology while respecting international treaties."

Iran is at loggerheads with the international community over its nuclear programme after resuming uranium ore conversion -- the precursor to enrichment -- ending a nine-month freeze agreed during talks with the Europeans.

Accused by the United States of seeking nuclear weapons, Tehran insists it has the right to nuclear technology for peaceful purposes under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

In defiance of the West, Iran last week removed the IAEA seals at its controversial conversion plant in Isfahan, even though US President George W. Bush has refused to rule out the use of force against Tehran.

Some 500 demonstrators formed a human chain on Tuesday outside the gates of the plant in Isfahan, 400 kilometres (250 miles) south of the capital.

"Nuclear energy is our right," chanted the protesters, most of them Islamist students. "Let's stop the negotiations" with the European Union, they cried, carrying a banner which read "Isfahan is only the beginning".

The demonstrators were adamant that Iran should not bow to pressure.

"We know all about economic sanctions. They have taught us to cope on our own," said Ali Naderi, a 22-year-old political sciences student. "It's not us who will make war, but neither war nor sanctions frighten us."

Before his appointment, Larijani was on the record as a staunch critic of the troubled talks with the EU on providing reassurances that Iran's nuclear programme is exclusively civilian in return for a package of incentives.

But his first comments as secretary of Iran's top policy-making body, the Supreme National Security Council, appeared to signal no immediate break with policies under former reformist president Mohammad Khatami.

Negotiations are "the right method", Larijani insisted.

While uranium enrichment at the Natanz plant remains suspended, Iran has repeatedly said it will restart such activities under a negotiated agreement with the Europeans.

"Through negotiations, we can reach a solution in which both sides would be winners," said Larijani. But he criticised the Europeans saying their "attitude is not justifiable".

Despite Larijani's reputation for intransigence in dealings with the West, Iran has said its foreign policy will not change under the new government of President Mahmood Ahmadinejad, who succeeded Khatami after a June election.

Any decision on the nuclear file depends on a restricted circle around the country's supreme guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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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