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. Iran to continue uranium enrichment program: Ahmadinejad
TEHRAN, July 1 (AFP) Jul 01, 2006
Iran's hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tehran will continue its uranium enrichment program despite international calls to halt the sensitive project, state television reported Saturday.

"The Iranian government and the people have decided, and without any doubt with dignity and glory we will pass this phase," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying from Gambia after explaining Iran's fuel cycle program, which has enriching uranium as its focus, to Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo.

Ahmadinejad is in Gambia to address the African Union summit.

Tehran is under mounting pressure from the West to respond next week to an international offer that would defuse the nuclear standoff.

World powers gave Iran one more week Thursday to provide a "clear and substantive response" to an international proposal on suspending uranium enrichment, but Tehran immediately rejected the deadline.

Foreign ministers of the G8 group of leading nations said European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iran's head nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani will meet Wednesday to discuss the plan.

"We expect to hear a clear and substantive Iranian response to these proposals at the planned meeting," the ministers said in a statement from Moscow, where they were preparing a July 15-17 summit in Saint Petersburg.

But speaking at the United Nations in New York, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tehran would not respond before late August.

Solana on June 6 handed Iran the proposal from the five permanent UN Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- plus Germany.

It promises incentives and multilateral talks if Iran agrees to temporarily halt uranium enrichment, something Tehran has so far refused to do.

Diplomats say Iran was asked to reply by June 29, but Ahmadinejad said last week Tehran would take until August 22 to answer.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is to generate electricity and that uranium enrichment is needed to provide the fuel. The EU and the US suspect Iran of concealing a military weapons project.

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