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Iran offers to guarantee 'no bomb' policy


Erikl

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Iran offers to guarantee 'no bomb' policy

By ASSOCIATED PRESS

TEHRAN, Iran

Iran made Europe an offer Tuesday: Stop pressuring us on nuclear energy and we'll guarantee not to make a bomb. European and U.S. governments were discussing an alternate proposal - to buy Iran out of its nuclear ambitions.

Iran's offer wasn't new, but given U.N. pressure on Tehran to stop work toward enriching uranium and a bill in parliament to force the government to intensify such work, it came at a crucial moment.

"The time has come for Europe to take a step forward and suggest that our legitimate right for complete use of nuclear energy is recognized (in return for) assurances that our program will not be diverted toward weapons," Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said in a speech to an energy conference.

The offer was unlikely, however, to ease international pressure on Iran. A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Iran was already obliged by the International Atomic Energy Agency to stop uranium enrichment. Iran disputes that, saying the IAEA simply asked Iran to do so voluntarily as a good-will gesture.

The United States accuses Iran of pursuing a secret program to build nuclear bombs. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear program aims to produce only electricity.

The IAEA - the U.N. nuclear watchdog - has given Iran until the end of November to prove it has ceased all activities related to uranium enrichment, including reprocessing uranium and building centrifuges used to enrich it.

But no treaties require Iran to do so, and Tehran has said it has no intention of halting its work, which it has allowed the IAEA to monitor.

"We have allowed short-notice inspection of our facilities by IAEA inspectors. We have even allowed IAEA inspectors immediate access to our military facilities. This is the maximum cooperation any country can offer," said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, a former deputy foreign minister and now a senior conservative lawmaker.

The United States has threatened sanctions, but it was considering rewards as well. Two U.S. officials said Tuesday that Washington was holding talks with European allies on offering economic incentives in exchange for Iran suspending its uranium enrichment activities.

The package of incentives will be discussed at a meeting Friday at the State Department of European envoys and Undersecretary of State John R. Bolton and either Secretary of State Colin Powell or Deputy Secretary Richard Armitage, one of the officials said on condition of anonymity.

The officials said the incentives under discussion included access to imported nuclear fuel, but stressed that the United States had not yet agreed to any part of the proposal.

Diplomats in Europe said the United States was holding on to its option of pushing for sanctions. But the new strategy appeared in part prompted by recognition that Washington could fall short of support for referring the matter to the Security Council.

The issue is politically sensitive in the United States. Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, has criticized the U.S. administration stance, suggesting he would offer a carrot and stick approach to Tehran _ similar to the tentative plan now being examined by Washington.

Hard-liners like Boroujerdi who dominate Iran's parliament want the reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami to ignore the Western demands, and even withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Hossein Shariatmadari, a senior hard-liner and a representative of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urged the government to withdraw from treaty sooner rather than later.

"Denying Iran of the right to master the cycle of nuclear fuel, including uranium enrichment, is tantamount to expelling Iran from the NPT, which allows Iran to enrich uranium," he said Tuesday in an editorial in his hard-line newspaper Kayhan.

"To confront the IAEA's extortion and excessive illegal demands, the only effective solution is to set a deadline for the IAEA to close Iran's nuclear dossier in November and withdraw from the NPT if it refuses."

Iran's nuclear program is now a matter of national pride, and is one of the few issues on which hard-liners and reformists agree.

Even the public has been pressuring the government to expand uranium enrichment. State radio said Tuesday that about 1,400 university teachers wrote a letter to Khatami calling on the government to do so.

The nonproliferation treaty doesn't prohibit uranium enrichment, but the IAEA and Western countries have been pressuring Tehran to suspend such activities anyway. Kharrazi's comments indicated the government has no intention of acceding to those demands.

That would leave U.N. inspectors with the option of accepting Tehran's assurances that it isn't trying to build a bomb, or referring the matter to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

Iran suspended building centrifuges in May in return for European promises to call off the IAEA investigation of Iran. But when the Europeans failed to live up their pledge, Iran resumed the work. It also said that last week it had converted a few tons of raw uranium into a gas, a key step toward enrichment.

"Trust and confidence-building measures are a two-way street," Kharrazi said.

Meanwhile, Iranian state radio reported that six senior U.N. inspectors, led by IAEA Deputy Director-General Pierre Goldschmidt, traveled to Tehran on Tuesday for talks with Iranian officials. It gave no details.

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