Iran calls for more nuclear talks

(Gold9472: Condi's not interested in talking. Condi wants war.)

By Alireza Ronaghi
1 hour, 21 minutes ago

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Mixing defiance with diplomacy, Iran said on Monday it did not fear Western threats over its nuclear program and vowed to pursue uranium enrichment if taken to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

But it also called for more dialogue with the European Union to resolve a standoff that is helping drive up world oil prices.

"We have invited our European friends to return to talks," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters.

Leading EU powers Germany, Britain and France have refused to hold more negotiations until Tehran reinstates a moratorium on uranium enrichment and other sensitive nuclear work.

The United States and the EU want the U.N. nuclear watchdog to refer Iran to the Security Council when its 35-nation governing board meets in Vienna on February 2.

Washington says Iran's enthusiasm for talks is part of what one official has called a "diplomatic fog machine" to buy time.

Rising tensions over Iran and other global supply worries have pushed oil prices up more than $10 since late December.

The West suspects Iran is covertly seeking nuclear arms and its mistrust has deepened since Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for the destruction of Israel. Iran says its atomic program aims only to generate electricity.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said his country had no desire to destabilize Iran or Syria, but they must abide by international law if they wanted good relations with the West.

"Iran is giving active support to terrorism round the Middle East and elsewhere," he declared.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani was quoted by London's Financial Times as saying Tehran would push ahead with uranium enrichment if referred to the Security Council.

He also urged the EU to resume talks broken off this month after Tehran removed U.N. seals on enrichment equipment.

"But if this route is closed, we are obliged to follow up our other scenario. Everything depends on the way we are treated," Larijani told the newspaper.

Asked if there was a timeframe for uranium enrichment on an industrial scale, he said: "Yes. We have a plan for resumption."

Iran is not known to have any capacity for industrial-scale uranium enrichment. It declared this month that it was resuming a small-scale enrichment research project at its Natanz plant.

Diplomats close to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) say they have seen no sign actual enrichment has resumed.

The Europeans are lobbying for the IAEA to send Iran to the Security Council, which could impose punitive measures, but Russia, China and other nations are urging caution.

"Iran will not be intimidated by their (the West's) hollow threats," government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mehdi Safari in Moscow and told him he hoped Tehran would "help defuse the nuclear problem and renew talks."

Russia's Interfax news agency said Larijani would also visit Moscow on Tuesday.

Britain and France wrote to IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei asking him to give agency board members a full report on alleged Iranian non-compliance with IAEA safeguards in time for the February 2 meeting, after he turned down verbal requests, diplomats said.

ElBaradei told the EU last week he could not bring forward the report he was preparing for a regular March 6 board meeting because he had given Iran until then to answer IAEA questions and because he did not want to appear to be taking sides.

A diplomat close to the IAEA said it had sent a fresh batch of questions to Iran last week based on newly declassified intelligence. "This is further reason why ElBaradei feels strongly he cannot rush his next report," the diplomat said.

EU and U.S. officials want a new safeguards report to help persuade Russia, China and key developing states like South Africa and Brazil to back sending Iran to the Security Council.

(Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich in Vienna, Peter Griffiths and Madeline Chambers in London, Oleg Shchedrov in Moscow and Masayuki Kitano in Tokyo)