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. Iran's Ahmadinejad on tough UN nuclear mission
TEHRAN (AFP) Sep 13, 2005
Iran's hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will make his debut on the world stage at the UN summit this week, tasked with a tough mission to stem mounting international pressure over his country's suspect nuclear drive.

The new president will try and lobby support for the Islamic republic's claim to make its own reactor fuel -- a process that could also hand it access to nuclear weapons -- in the hope of undermining moves by the European Union and United States to refer the issue to the UN Security Council.

The former commando, who Washington has only reluctantly allowed to travel to New York amid lingering suspicions he is a former hostage-taker, is also set to unveil new proposals on solving the nuclear row in an address to the UN General Assembly.

Officials here have given some hints as to what the "innovations" are likely to be: Iran will again lay down its "right" to possess uranium enrichment technology, while at the same time pledging to cooperate with non-proliferation safeguards overseen by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Such a proposal is certain to fall short of demands by the EU and US that Iran abandon such work altogether in return for trade and other incentives -- seen as the best "objective guarantee" the hardline clerical regime will never acquire weapons of mass destruction.

Ahmadinejad is also expected to propose widening the talks to include more sympathetic parties -- members of the Non-Aligned Movement such as Malaysia and South Africa -- something else that is expected to anger Britain, France and Germany who have been leading the talks for the past two years.

Speaking to a gathering of Iranian diplomats on Monday, the eve of his departure for New York, Ahmadinejad said he was facing "a sensitive period in history where the Iranian nation can identify its friends and enemies."

"We expect all the free and independent nations of the world to support Iran in its logical and principled stance. There is no doubt the Islamic republic of Iran will use its legitimate and recognised rights to have nuclear technology for peaceful purposes," he said.

As a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran insists it is allowed to make nuclear fuel. But critics point to past efforts at concealment, black market shopping, suspect activities and a fast-paced ballistic missile development as signs the effort is not solely aimed at generating electricity.

Iran has also yet to commission the construction of any power stations to put the fuel into -- and EU and US diplomats say this alone should set alarm bells ringing.

Last month Iran resumed converting uranium -- a precursor to the ultra-sensitive enrichment process -- in violation of a deal reached with the

On August 11, the IAEA called on Iran to halt all nuclear fuel work and return to the table, but Iran is standing firm in its refusal -- paving the way for intense diplomatic lobbying by both sides at the UN headquarters.

Iran has already threatened "consequences" if the issue goes to the Security Council, playing on fears of yet more instability in the Middle East and concerns that already-high oil prices could surge even more.

But the EU and US are warning the NPT could collapse if Iran gets its own way -- something that could spark a Middle East arms race.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week issued an open appeal to China, Russia and India to support the US drive to have the IAEA bring Iran before the Security Council later this month.

"Iran needs to get a message from the international community that is a unified message, and by this I mean not just the EU-3 and the United States, but also Russia and China and India and others," Rice said.

But Russia, which is building Iran's first nuclear power plant, has said it would not back referral to the Security Council, and some 13 non-aligned nations on the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors as well as Brazil also oppose referral, diplomats at the IAEA's headquarters in Vienna say.

Ahmadinejad, 46, is to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in New York, but there are apparently no plans for the Iranian president to talk with the leaders of the EU-3 countries.

A meeting with US President George W. Bush -- who has lumped Iran into an "axis of evil" -- is also out of the question. Tehran and Washington cut off diplomatic relations after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

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