Iran threatens to end co-operation with watchdog

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Iran today vowed to end all voluntary co-operation with the UN nuclear watchdog if it is referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions over its controversial nuclear programme.

The Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Europeans would lose opportunities they currently had in dealing with Iran, and Tehran would block snap inspections of its nuclear facilities, state-run television reported.

"In case Iran is referred to the UN Security Council ..., the government will be obliged to end all of its voluntary co-operation," the television report quoted Mottaki as saying.

The statement reflected a law passed late last year that requires the government to block intrusive inspections of Iran's facilities if the UN nuclear agency refers the Iranian programme to the UN Security Council.

Iran has been voluntarily allowing the short-notice IAEA inspections since 2003.

The law also requires the Iranian government to resume all nuclear activities that it had stopped voluntarily, foremost among them enriching uranium.

Foreign ministers of Germany, Britain and France said yesterday that nuclear talks with Iran had reached a dead end after more than two years of acrimonious negotiations and the issue should be referred to the UN Security Council.

The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also said a "strong message" had to be sent to Tehran, but said she was not ready to talk about what action should be taken to curtail Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, told UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that Tehran was interested in resuming "serious and constructive negotiations" with the Europeans, but this time wanted a deadline.

Also yesterday, in an interview with CNN, Larijani said Iran wanted to reach agreement with Europe and Russia but "the question of our research is nonnegotiable".

He also said that an offer to enrich uranium on Russian territory and then ship it back to Iran to fuel nuclear power stations "would be a good basis for negotiations".

"Iran has the absolute right to enrich," Larijani said. "Meanwhile, the other side has proposed that for a while the issue of enrichment could be resolved in a different way. This is worth discussing. I think we can reach an agreement that could suit today's circumstances."

Europe's negotiations with Iran has been aimed at getting Iran to permanently abandon uranium enrichment, but Iran says it won't give up its right under to enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel.

Iran removed UN seals from another nuclear facility - its Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan, central Iran - in August that reprocesses raw uranium into gas.

Iran took that step after Europeans called on Iran to permanently halt its uranium enrichment program. Talks collapsed as a result temporarily. Iran-European Negotiations were resumed in December and more talks had been scheduled later this month.