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. Obama message positive, but nuclear programme continues: Iran
ISTANBUL, March 20 (AFP) Mar 20, 2009
Iranian Energy Minister Parviz Fattah on Friday said Tehran's nuclear programme would not be derailed despite "positive" overtures by President Barack Obama.

A nuclear plant at Bushehr will start operations by year's end, Fattah said here, insisting that the programme -- suspected by the United States and Europe to be a covert effort to build an atomic bomb -- was peaceful.

Fattah spoke at the World Water Forum in Istanbul, where he was asked whether Obama's televised message of goodwill, on the occasion of the Iranian New Year, would affect Iran's nuclear programme.

"Iran has chosen a direction for achieving peaceful nuclear energy. We have mainly reached this aim," Fattah said at a press conference.

"Exactly 20 days from now we will have another celebration for celebrating the achievements we have gained for peaceful nuclear energy. You will hear about the news," he said.

"Iran will finish and operate the Bushehr nuclear plant by the end of this year."

Asked about Obama's message, Fattah said: "Absolutely this message is positive... although it might also have negative points in itself as well."

"The Iranian leaders will precisely assess this message. We believe that we need that in addition to messages, we need positive action from Mr. Obama as well as from his government. So in addition to talk, we need actions."

"We also see different conflicts that have to be cleared (up)," Fattah, who was speaking through an interpreter, said.

"It's less than one week since he renewed sanctions against Iran. We should absolutely set this message against this kind of sanctions.

"Mr. Obama's slogan was 'change' when he was elected. What we understand from this change is that the government of the United States should change its policies toward Iran. This is our belief."

Fattah downplayed hopes that an intermediary could help end the US-Iranian dispute.

"We believe negotiators cannot do very much in this respect," he said.

Obama, in his historic appeal to the Iranian people, urged a resolution of differences and the launch of an "honest" engagement with Tehran.

"My administration is now committed to diplomacy that addresses the full range of issues before us, and to pursuing constructive ties among the United States, Iran and the international community," Obama said.

But, he warned, Iran could not take its "rightful place in the community of nations... through terror or arms, but rather through peaceful actions."

The United States and the European Union (EU) fear Iran is enriching uranium under a secret programme to develop nuclear weapons.

They accuse it of refusing to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and flouting UN resolutions.

The UN Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions against Iran for defying calls for it to halt enrichment.

On Friday, Russia, which has been involved in building the Bushehr plant said it saw no sign "for the time being" that Iran's nuclear programme had a military purpose.

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