Nuclear project will continue, says Iran

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The Independent Online

Iran's new "Dr No", the Iranian chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, came to London yesterday for the first time since his appointment at the end of October for talks billed as Iran's last chance to avert a new round of UN sanctions.

The Iranian official spoke as softly as his predecessor, Ali Larijani, but the message was just as uncompromising: Iran will continue to reject the central US and European demand for his country to suspend uranium enrichment, the process which could eventually lead to a nuclear bomb.

Such a demand, he said, was "unacceptable," stressing that Iran had a right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Furthermore Mr Jalili, who spoke after five hours of negotiations with the chief EU envoy, Javier Solana, challenged the West to drop its threats of additional UN sanctions on the ground that the head of the UN nuclear agency had been able to clear up many "baseless accusations" regarding Iran's past nuclear activities which had troubled the US and Britain. The Iran nuclear dossier belongs with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and not the UN, he argued.

Those countries which continued to believe that Iran was building a nuclear weapon had "their own agenda," said Mr Jalili, a close ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mr Solana said that he was "disappointed" at the lack of progress.

Iran's stand sets the stage for negotiations in Paris today at which Britain, the US and France will argue that Iran has failed to heed UN demands and press for additional sanctions targeting its nuclear programme and its connections to the powerful Revolutionary Guards. Gordon Brown last month urged consideration of sanctions targeting oil and gas investments, and the financial sector. Additional visa restrictions on Iranian officials linked to the country's nuclear programme are also to be discussed. But Russia and China, the other two permanent security council members, are resisting tougher sanctions.

A Foreign Office official said that the negotiators would need time to "work through the details" of a proposed draft resolution. The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, on Thursday stressed the need for unanimity among the big powers on the security council, implying Britain would be prepared to back down on some demands.

However, despite the existing UN sanctions and unilateral US measures, Iran has stood firm. Diplomats said yesterday that Saudi proposals for a possible consortium for enriching uranium had not been "fleshed out" despite earlier suggestions that they could prove a deal-breaker.

Mr Jalili also denounced a decision by a British tribunal to remove an exiled Iranian dissident group from a terrorist blacklist, noting that the People's Mujahedin Organisation of Iran had "assassinated and killed innocent Iranians".