Tehran (AFP) Oct 30, 2005
Iran will not return to a full freeze of its disputed nuclear fuel activities and Western demands for such confidence building measures are unacceptable, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Sunday.
In a speech to members of the hardline Basij militia, the austere hardliner also played down an international outcry over his controversial call for Israel to be "wiped off the map" by insisting what he said was nothing new.
Although the president lashed out at what he called "an illegal occupying regime", he did not repeat his call for Israel to be destroyed and the foreign ministry also kept up its effort to limit the diplomatic fall-out.
Ahmadinejad's use of the revolutionary-era slogan, which has not been employed by senior regime officials for years, has renewed concerns over the Islamic republic's bid to make nuclear reactor fuel -- work that could potentially be diverted to make weapons.
But the president, who won a shock election victory in June, maintained his uncompromising stance in the face of Western demands that Iran abandon such technology.
"We support the resumption of work at the UCF (uranium conversion facility) and we will continue," Ahmadinejad said, rejecting demands that Iran return to a full freeze agreed to in November 2004 in a deal with Britain, France and Germany.
"The previous government backed down in the name of confidence building so much that they voluntarily suspended the fuel cycle," he complained. "Recently the government realised that this confidence building claim is wrong."
In August, Iran refused an EU offer of trade and other incentives in exchange for halting uranium enrichment work and resumed uranium conversion.
The country insists it only wants to generate electricity, but last month the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found Iran to be in "non-compliance" with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) -- paving the way for a Security Council referral -- and urged Iran to return to a full suspension.
The next IAEA meeting is just a month away.
But reacting to Western pressure against Iran, Ahmadinejad said: "They are lying and they don't want the Islamic republic to have the fuel cycle."
Enrichment work, Ahmadinejad insisted, was "100-percent lawful and there was no deviation" towards military purposes.
"It is a big lie that Iran has concealed things for 18 years," he asserted, even though Iran has openly admitted having failed to report the full scale of its nuclear activities and black market shopping to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Iran came clean on its activities in 2003, maintaining that it had been left with no choice but to conceal given the country is subject to almost constant US pressure and sanctions.
An IAEA probe has since found evidence of suspect activities but no "smoking gun" that proves a weapons drive.
Speaking with a Palestinian scarf around his neck and flanked by sandbags, Ahmadinejad also brushed off condemnation of his fiercely anti-Israeli speech, which was given Wednesday to a conference entitled "A World without Zionism".
"We only repeated the words of the last 27 years which were the stances of the Imam, and the supreme leader and Islamic nation. It was very clear," Ahmadinejad said, in what could be interpreted as an effort to calm the storm.
But he nevertheless went on to blast efforts "to make the world recognise the existence of an illegal occupying regime", drawing chants from the audience of "Down with Israel!"
"Today, under the pretext of the Gaza pullout, they want to force a few countries to recognise this country. The ones who do that must know that they are standing in front of Islamic nations and that it is an unforgivable crime."
The Iranian foreign ministry also kept up its efforts to ease tensions, the day after asserting the Islamic republic was not out to attack Israel.
"The position of the Islamic republic regarding the illegal Zionist regime has been very clear since the Islamic revolution (in 1979): we do not recognise this regime and that is our diplomatic right," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told the official news agency IRNA.
"We want free elections in the occupied Palestinian territories with the participation of all inhabitants, be they Jews, Muslims or Christians."
The Islamic republic has been bombarded with international condemnation of it's president's call for Israel to be "wiped of the map", with the outcry culminating in a statement from the UN Security Council.
Iran's diplomatic apparatus has sought to play down the comments by asserting the Islamic republic has no intention of attacking the Jewish state, but diplomats and analysts say serious damage has been done.
Several European diplomats said they now consider their three-year-old effort to "engage" Iran -- on issues including nuclear proliferation and accepting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- as having come to an end.
"Our policy of engaging Iran was already in a coma, but I think we can now declare it dead. This was the final straw," a senior European diplomat told
Ahmadinejad's speech last Wednesday -- at a conference entitled "the World without Zionism" -- was the first time in years that such a high-ranking Iranian official has openly called for Israel's destruction.
It was also a major departure from the style of former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, who had tried to improve ties with the outside world and tone down anti-Western rhetoric.
"It was more than just one slogan. He was also talking about seeing the world in terms of Muslims and infidels. It was as if this new government wants isolation, and it certainly confirmed our nuclear concerns," said the diplomat.
In August, Iran refused an EU offer of trade and other incentives in exchange for halting uranium enrichment work -- which can be diverted to bomb making -- and went on to end a full freeze of fuel work.
Last month, Iran was scolded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear watchdog, for being in "non-compliance" with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in a resolution that paves the way for a Security Council referral.
The next IAEA meeting is just a month away, and even diplomats sympathetic to Iran's claim that it only wants to generate nuclear energy acknowledge Tehran has been left with an uphill struggle.
"Iran now really needs to pull its finger out ahead of the IAEA meeting because the confidence deficit is even greater than before," said an Asian diplomat who asked not to be identified.
"If (IAEA chief Mohamed) ElBaradei is still unsatisfied with Iranian cooperation next month, I think even the Russians and non-aligned countries will find it very hard to keep blocking a Security Council referral."
On the domestic front, Ahmadinejad's love for revolutionary era slogans and failure to quickly deliver on promises of better living standards has also created unease over the direction in which the country is heading.
"Those who decided to stay silent are hostile," said Saeed Leylaz, a prominent Iranian analyst, referring to the absence of explicit support for Ahmadinejad's comments from senior regime officials.
"Little by little and even among conservatives, there is a climate opposed to the government's foreign policy and the dangers to which the country is being exposed," he said, warning that "radical conservatives could be seeking to isolate Iran to preserve their revolutionary values."
"From an economic point of view, the consequences are very serious and our position in the nuclear case is more difficult," Leylaz said.
Another Iranian analyst, Mashallah Shamsolvayzin, said there was still confusion over how and why Ahmadinejad, a newcomer to international politics, gave such a fiercely anti-Israeli and anti-Western speech.
"Just weeks before the IAEA meeting, when Iran needs new allies, these statements are pushing countries against us," he said.
He said the controversial speech may have been designed "to tell the Westerners that Iran is determined to stick to its nuclear programme and is not worried a new front may open".
"Otherwise he was not aware of the impact of his speech, in which case this is even more serious because it has considerably hurt Iran's position."
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US Nuclear Envoy Expects North Korean Nuclear Talks Next Month
Seoul (AFP) Oct 30, 2005
US chief nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill said Sunday he expects six-nation talks on dismantling North Korea's nuclear arsenal to resume next month despite a dispute over the next step.
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