Iran: Others can 'die' if upset about uranium enrichment

Friday, April 14, 2006

Iranian and U.N. diplomats met, but they reached no agreement over its nuclear program.

TEHRAN, Iran -- The words between the diplomats were polite -- but the gap was still wide. And off to the side, Iran's hard-line president wasn't being diplomatic at all.

With the U.N.'s chief nuclear official newly arrived in town to avert an international standoff, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issued a blunt threat: His country is now nuclear -- and if other countries are upset about that, they can just "die of this anger."

The president has repeatedly made such confrontational statements in recent months -- whether to drum up political support at home or to convince the West that no amount of pressure will dissuade Iran from what it calls a peaceful nuclear program.

Diplomats for both the U.N. and Iran didn't address Ahmadinejad's words when they met later Thursday. Instead, the visiting head of the U.N. atomic watchdog agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said he had not seen any diversion of nuclear material for weapons purposes, although "the picture is still hazy."

He said he and the Iranians had discussed the U.N. request for suspending uranium enrichment until questions over Iran's nuclear program have been resolved.

Iran's top diplomat on the issue, Ali Larijani, also indicated, like his president, that suspension of Iran's program to enrich uranium -- a key step toward a nuclear program -- was not an option. His words, though, were more diplomatic: "Such proposals are not very important ones," he said.

But it is Ahmadinejad the world is listening to, in large measure. When the president said on Tuesday that Iran had joined the "club of nuclear countries" by enriching a small amount of uranium using 164 centrifuges, the White House denounced him.

"Defiant statements and actions only further isolate the regime from the rest of the world," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said then.

Iran says its uranium enrichment is for power-generating purposes, while the West says it is intended for nuclear weapons. Western diplomats and experts familiar with Iran's program say it is still far from producing any weapons-grade uranium.

But the U.N. Security Council has given Iran until April 28 to stop all enrichment activity.

Ahmadinejad indicated that won't happen.

"We won't hold talks with anyone about the right of the Iranian nation (to enrich uranium) and no one has the right to retreat, even one iota," Ahmadinejad was quoted Thursday as saying by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

"Our answer to those who are angry about Iran achieving the full nuclear fuel cycle is just one phrase. We say: 'Be angry at us and die of this anger,"' Ahmadinejad said.

Iran's deputy nuclear chief, Mohammad Saeedi, said Wednesday that Iran intends to move toward large-scale uranium enrichment involving 54,000 centrifuges, and the president also alluded to that.

"Today, our situation has changed completely. We are a nuclear country and speak to others from the position of a nuclear country," IRNA quoted the president as saying Thursday.

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- met Thursday to discuss the developments in Iran but issued no statement.

"We are obviously following this very carefully and we want to see what the outcome of the discussions between ElBaradei and the Iranian government is, and when we get information on that we'll consider what to do next," U.S. ambassador John Bolton said afterward.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said there will "have to be some consequence" for Iran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment activities.

"There is no doubt that Iran continues to defy the will of the international community despite the fact that the international community very clearly said stop," Rice said.

Also Thursday, China said it is sending an envoy to Iran and Russia to discuss the dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Assistant foreign minister Cui Tiankai is due to leave on Friday.

"We hope the parties should exercise restraint and not take any actions that lead to further escalation so we can solve the question properly through dialogue and diplomacy," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao.

The IAEA is due to report to the Security Council on April 28 whether Iran has met its demand for a full halt to enrichment. If Tehran has not complied, the council will consider the next step. The U.S. and Europe are pressing for sanctions, a step Russia and China have so far opposed.

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