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Iran Defiant on Nuclear Program
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Iran will pursue uranium enrichment in defiance of outside pressure, its president said Thursday, a day before a UN nuclear watchdog delivers a verdict on whether Teheran has met UN Security Council demands.

"If you think by frowning at us, by issuing resolutions... you can impose anything on the Iranian nation or force it to abandon its obvious right, you still don't know its power," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a rally in northwest Iran.

"We have obtained the technology for producing nuclear fuel ... No one can take it away from our nation," he added.

Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is widely expected to tell the council and the agency's board today that Iran has not stopped purifying uranium or fully answered IAEA queries as the UN body asked a month ago.

The West accuses Iran of seeking nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian program. Teheran, which denies the charge, said this month it had processed uranium to the level used in power stations for the first time and planned large-scale enrichment.

The United States, backed by Britain and France, favors limited sanctions if Iran refuses to halt enrichment very soon. Russia and China, the UN Security Council's other two permanent members, have so far opposed any embargo.

Rather than pushing for sanctions immediately, the Western powers may put forward a resolution to make UN demands set out in a March 29 council statement legally binding.

They would propose punitive measures if Iran did not comply reasonably promptly, said a council diplomat in New York.

Diplomatic solution urged

Russia said Thursday diplomacy was the best way to tackle the dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"A diplomatic option suggests different ways to react. We will discuss this issue with our European partners, the United States and the international community," President Vladimir Putin said, stressing that any response should be coordinated.

"We oppose the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction including by Iran. But we believe Iran should have an opportunity to develop peaceful nuclear energy projects," he said after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Siberia.

Putin did not explicitly rule out sanctions. Some of his ministers have previously said only proof that Iran has a secret nuclear military program would justify such measures.

Russia also believes the IAEA board is the best forum to debate Iran, but Merkel disagreed with Putin on this.

"It is a discussion in the IAEA, but also in the Security Council," she said in the Siberian city of Tomsk.

Merkel said diplomats from the council's five permanent members plus Germany would discuss Iran in early May. Foreign ministers of those countries were also likely to meet, she said.

NATO foreign ministers meeting Thursday were expected to assess the scope for tougher action on Iran, diplomats said.

"It is an opportunity to confer," said a senior alliance diplomat of the two-day meeting in the Bulgarian capital Sofia where US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is due to meet counterparts from European powers and Russia.

While the United States is keeping military options open in case diplomacy fails, NATO commanders stress they have not been charged at any level to study plans for the use of force.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday Iran would strike at US interests worldwide if it is attacked.

Israeli missile claim

Meanwhile, Israel's military intelligence chief was quoted as claiming that Iran has missiles that are capable of reaching Europe.

Known in the West as BM-25s, the missiles have a range of around 2,500 kilometers, giving them a longer reach than the Iranian-made Shihab-4 missiles which are capable of hitting Israel.

The intelligence chief, Major-General Amos Yadlin, was quoted by Israel's Haaretz newspaper as saying in a lecture on Wednesday that some BM-25s had arrived in Iran.

The BM-25 was originally manufactured in the Soviet Union, where it was known as the SSN6, a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, Haaretz reported.

Israel is widely believed to have more than 200 nuclear warheads.

It declines to comment on its atomic program, saying only it will not be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East.

(China Daily April 28, 2006)


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