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Tehran rules out nuclear proposal

TEHRAN -- Iran ruled out a Russian proposal aimed at easing tensions over its nuclear program yesterday, drawing criticism from a senior legislator in Moscow who said the decision had destroyed the last opportunity for compromise before the UN Security Council takes on the issue this week.

An Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, also warned that Iran is considering large-scale uranium enrichment at home as a response to the International Atomic Energy Agency's decision to refer Tehran to the Security Council.

But Tehran backed away from a threat to use oil as an economic weapon if the Security Council imposed sanctions.

Russia had sought to persuade Iran to move its enrichment program to Russian territory, which would allow closer international monitoring. Iran reached a basic agreement with Moscow on the plan; details have not been worked out.

''The Russian proposal is not on our agenda anymore," Asefi told reporters. ''Circumstances have changed. We have to wait and see how things go with the five veto-holding countries" on the council.

The comments effectively meant that the Russian proposal was dead, after the nuclear watchdog agency referred Iran last week to the Security Council, which can impose political and economic sanctions.

''We are not afraid of the Security Council. What is important for us is defending our legitimate rights," Asefi said. ''Iran is a powerful country and is able to defend its interests."

In Moscow, Konstantin Kosachev, the head of international affairs committee of the lower house of Parliament, harshly criticized Iran, saying the decision meant the end of chances for a compromise on the issue, according to Russian news reports.

Kosachev also warned Tehran that its refusal to continue talks on the Russian offer could ''radicalize" the Security Council debate on the issue.

The United States and Western allies accused Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies any intention to build weapons, saying it aims only to produce energy.

A Western diplomat, who insisted on anonymity in detailing the confidential discussions, said a new meeting among the permanent Security Council members -- the United States, Russia, Britain, France, and China -- is planned for today to look at a revised draft statement.

The text was aimed at pressuring Tehran to resolve questions about its nuclear program, including demands that it abandon uranium enrichment.

The Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mattaki, said Tehran had no intention to use oil as a weapon in the confrontation, contradicting a statement Saturday by the interior minister, Mostafa Pourmohammadi.

''The Islamic Republic of Iran is determined to continue to provide Asia with the oil it needs as a reliable and effective source of energy and will not use oil as a foreign policy instrument," he said at a conference on energy and security issues in Tehran.

Iran is the second-largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, after Saudi Arabia. It also has partial control of the narrow Straits of Hormuz, a key route for most of the crude oil shipped to world markets.

Tehran, which officials say has only an experimental nuclear research program, has warned several times that it will begin large-scale uranium enrichment if it were referred to the Security Council, which occurred last week.

Asefi suggested Tehran would wait for the outcome of the Security Council meetings to make a decision on whether to start large-scale enrichment, which scientists say would take months to do.

Uranium enriched to a low level produces fuel that can be used in a nuclear reactor, while higher enrichment produces the material needed for a warhead.

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