Iran won't give up nuclear rights - Ahmadinejad

Iran Materials 3 August 2008 07:51 (UTC +04:00)

Iran will not give up "a single iota of its nuclear rights," the country's president said Saturday, rebuffing an informal deadline to stop expanding uranium enrichment or face more sanctions, the AP reported.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made the remarks during discussions with Syrian President Beshar Assad, who arrived in Tehran Saturday for a two-day visit, the Iranian president's official Web site said.

Assad is in Tehran to discuss Iran's controversial uranium enrichment following a request from French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Tehran was given an informal two-week deadline, set July 19 by the U.N. Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany, to stop expanding uranium enrichment - at least temporarily - in exchange for their commitment to stop seeking new U.N. sanctions.

Ahmadinejad's stance signaled both a failure of Assad's mission and a rejection of the deadline, although his comments indicated he was not ruling out international talks on Iran's nuclear program.

While stating that the Iranian nation "will not give up a single iota of its nuclear rights," he also said any participation in international talks on the nuclear issue would be aimed at reinforcing those rights.

Assad, who has been seeking a more prominent Mideast role for Syria, promised Sarkozy during a visit to France in July to try to persuade Iran to offer proof to the West that it isn't developing nuclear weapons.

Syria is Iran's closest Arab ally - the two countries have had close relations since 1980, when Syria sided with Persian Iran against Iraq in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

Iran's claims that it only wants nuclear technology for the production of energy have failed to quell Western suspicions that it is seeking a pathway to an atomic bomb.

Meanwhile in Brussels, a European Union official said Saturday that the office of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana had not yet received an answer from Iran, but expected a reply "in the coming days" after the weekend deadline.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said EU nations and diplomats are not too concerned about Tehran's adherence to the exact deadline - but are keen for Iran to come back with a concrete reply that could form the basis of further negotiations.

Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged Iran to stop playing for time and deliver a "clear answer" to the latest initiative. "Stop dallying," Steinmeier was quoted as saying in an interview with the weekly Der Spiegel that was released Saturday.

Steinmeier said he expected "a clear signal for a mutual freeze: We would freeze our sanctions efforts and Iran the development of its centrifuges." He warned it would be "negligent" for Iran to pass on the opportunity and added that in case of Tehran's refusal, the six nations would consider increasing pressure on Iran "via sanctions."

The Security Council has slapped three sets of sanctions on Iran over its enrichment and reprocessing of uranium, which can produce the ingredients for a bomb but which Tehran insists is for peaceful purposes only.

In Damascus, Syria's official news agency SANA reported on Assad's visit as having affirmed "identical views" of the two countries on major regional and international issues. The agency, which is a government mouthpiece, hailed the two nations' rejection of "foreign dictates" and stressed the need for a "timetable for a withdrawal of foreign forces from" Iraq - an allusion to U.S. troops there.

Assad's visit was also to focus on economic ties between Tehran and Damascus that have resulted in over a dozen projects in Syria, worth $896 million, SANA said, adding that both governments are "seriously seeking to increase the size of joint investments to more than $3 billion over the next years."