Ahmadinejad says nuclear issue 'over'

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President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said yesterday that Iran will neither halt uranium enrichment nor negotiate over its nuclear rights, but is ready to sit and talk with world powers over "global challenges".

His statements came as the UN's nuclear watchdog warned of a "stalemate" over Iran. Members of the International Atomic Energy Agency began meetings in Vienna that could set the stage for a toughening of sanctions against Iran. Mr Ahmadinejad said that "from our point of view, Iran's nuclear issue is over". He added: "We will never negotiate over obvious rights of the Iranian nation."

He said the only two aspects of the nuclear file he was willing to discuss were "creating peaceful nuclear energy for all countries" and a mechanism to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons.

President Barack Obama and European allies have given Iran until the end of this month to take up an offer of nuclear talks with six world powers. If not, Iran could face harsher punitive sanctions.

The US and some of its allies accuse Iran of using its civilian nuclear programme as a cover to develop weapons. Iran has denied the charges, saying its nuclear programme is aimed at generating electricity.

Mr Ahmadinejad said Iran will continue to co-operate with the IAEA, "but we will resist if the agency is influenced by political pressures".

The agency's chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, said that the situation had reached a "stalemate".

He said that Iran has not suspended uranium enrichment and not cleared up other lingering questions about possible military dimensions of its atomic activities.