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. Ahmadinejad defiant as EU worries over sanctions call
TEHRAN, Oct 4 (AFP) Oct 04, 2007
Iran offered a defiant response Thursday to French calls for EU sanctions over Tehran's nuclear programme, while other European nations blew hot and cold on how best to press the Islamic republic.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed that he would never give in to international pressure.

"On the nuclear issue, the enemies have assembled all they have but I tell the whole world that Iran has conquered difficult passes and no power can halt the successive victories of Iran," he was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.

Iran has flouted UN Security Council calls for it to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment operations, which the West fears could be used to make a nuclear weapon.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner wrote to his EU partners this week urging them to take economic sanctions to pressure Iran to end its "nuclear defiance".

Such moves would parallel the existing UN sanctions regime against Iran imposed by two Security Council resolutions. The United States is seeking a third UN resolution imposing sanctions.

In his response, Ahmadinejad invoked his fervent belief in the "hidden" 12th imam Mahdi who Shiites believe disappeared 1,200 years ago and will one day return to save the world.

"As God promised, the oppressors will have their noses rubbed in the dirt. Now they are fulfilling this promise by themselves," he said.

"Let it be known that in whatever we do, I see the hand of God and the hidden imam at every moment."

Tehran insists its atomic drive is entirely peaceful and solely aimed at generating energy.

Kouchner had last month provoked an angry reaction from the Islamic republic by warning the world to brace for war with Tehran.

And in his letter to the 27-nation bloc's foreign ministers, Kouchner said it was "vital" that they set an example and initiate "firm new measures" to step up the pressure on Iran.

His call drew a mixed response, with Britain "wholeheartedly" backing the idea.

"We obviously work very, very closely with the French and the Germans and others on this ... and we are very supportive of the French position on this," a British Foreign Office spokesman said.

Spain and Italy, however, made it clear that they favoured pursuing further diplomatic channels before resorting to sanctions.

"There should be a stronger political initiative," Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said. "While applying stronger pressure (on Tehran), we should offer a political solution."

D'Alema advocated a solution such as that reached with North Korea, "proposing to Iran negotiations in a regional framework ... while offering not only an economic cooperation plan but also the prospect of full political recognition."

A source at the Spanish foreign ministry expressed a similar "preference for diplomatic solutions".

Spain believes Iran "must make gestures" but "we think that the framework for a solution, including sanctions, should be global, in this case the UN," the source said.

Portugal, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, said Thursday that the sanctions issue would be debated at the next meeting of EU foreign ministers, in Luxembourg on October 15.

"We'll see what the reaction of the other ministers will be," said presidency spokesman Manuel Carvalho.

Portugal's careful approach can be explained, in part, by the reservations among countries like Germany and Italy, which both have important economic interests in Iran.

Berlin's stance is key.

Along with permanent UN Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, Germany has led efforts to convince Iran to suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for political and economic incentives.

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