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Teheran Defies Calls to Halt Atomic Work
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Iran rebuffed renewed international calls to halt uranium enrichment, casting a shadow over yesterday's visit by the head of the UN atomic watchdog.


Speaking after a series of meetings with senior Iranian officials in Teheran, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei said he could not yet confirm if Iran had enriched uranium to 3.5 percent, as it had said.


"I cannot confirm that. Our inspectors have taken samples. They will report to the (IAEA) board," he said.


Iran's triumphant declaration on Tuesday that it had enriched uranium to a level used in power stations and wanted to expand production on a large scale, has drawn strong rebukes from major world powers.


But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose government has taken a firmer stance on the nuclear issue since taking power last August, remained defiant.


"Our answer to those who are angry about Iran obtaining the full nuclear cycle is one phrase, we say: Be angry and die of this anger," he said late on Wednesday, in comments reported by the official IRNA news agency.


"Today, our situation has changed and we are a nuclear country and we are talking to others from that position," he said, adding that Iran would not retreat "one iota" from its right to enrich uranium.


Washington and other Western nations accuse Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to build weapons, a charge Teheran denies.


Reflecting regional concern about Iran's program, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Cairo "cannot accept the appearance of a military nuclear force in the region."


In a statement released after a meeting in Cairo with US Under Secretary of State Robert Joseph, Aboul Gheit urged all sides to seek a diplomatic solution to the Iran issue.


Washington has said it wants a diplomatic solution to the dispute, but has left a military option open.


French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy dismissed talk of possible military strikes as "absolutely not topical."


The Security Council has told Iran to halt all sensitive atomic activities and asked the IAEA to report on its compliance by the end of April, prompting ElBaradei's one-day visit.


"I am going to discuss (bringing) Iran in line with the request of the international community, to take confidence- building measures, including suspension of uranium enrichment until outstanding issues are clarified," ElBaradei said.


(China Daily April 14, 2006)

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