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. Iran does not have the right to enrich uranium - US official
VIENNA (AFP) Dec 12, 2005
Iran does not have the right to enrich uranium since it is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons, a senior US State Department official said in Vienna Monday, disputing Iranian claims.

"The whole premise of the question is that Iran has this right to enrich. Iran does not. No non-nuclear weapons state party to the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) has the right to enrich if the purpose of that enrichment is for a weapons program," said the official, who asked not to be identified.

Iran says its nuclear program is a strictly peaceful effort to generate electricity but the United States charges this civilian program is hiding weapons development.

The US official was speaking with the European Union and Iran expected to meet December 21 in an attempt to set the stage for re-starting formal talks on winning guarantees that Tehran will not make nuclear weapons.

But Iranian Foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said in Tehran Sunday that Iran insists on its right to enrich uranium.

Iranian officials have said the Islamic Republic is only suspending the activity as a confidence-building gesture.

Enriched uranium can be fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors but also the raw material for atom bombs.

EU-Iran talks collapsed in August when Tehran ended its suspension of uranium conversion, a first step towards enrichment.

The UN nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has still not ruled, after an almost three-year investigation, on whether Iran's nuclear program is peaceful or dedicated to making weapons.

This is crucial as the NPT, which has been in effect since 1970, guarantees in its Article 4 "the inalienable right of all the parties to the treaty to develop research, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes" but says this should be in conformity with Article 2, in which nations pledge "not to manufacture of otherwise acquire nuclear weapons."

The EU, backed by the United States, wants Iran to permanently give up enrichment work as an "objective guarantee" it will not acquire weapons.

The West wants to push for a compromise under which Iran's enrichment work would be carried out in Russia, although this has already been rejected by Tehran.

Asefi said the only chance for the negotiations was if the European side compromises.

But the US official said: "The red line of enrichment is just that, it is a bright red line and if Iran crosses it, I think the issue ought to go immediately to the (United Nations) Security Council," which could impose sanctions.

The official said the United States was "working to broaden the international consensus on this . . . to try to get the Chinese and the Russians and others on board so that when it does go to the Security Council we have their support."

Russia supports Iran's civilian nuclear program and is building the Islamic Republic's first nuclear power reactor.

The IAEA has said Iran is not complying with the NPT due to almost two decades of hidden nuclear activities.

This opens the door to taking Iran before the Security Council.

But the IAEA last month put off such action after the EU-3 agreed to give time for Russian diplomacy to work.

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