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Iran says it may pull out of treaty

TEHRAN -- Iran's hard-line president said yesterday he is thinking about withdrawing from the nuclear nonproliferation treaty if the UN atomic agency tries to prevent his country from enriching uranium.

In a rare news conference with foreign journalists, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also predicted that the UN Security Council will not impose sanctions on Iran, which is facing a Friday deadline to halt enrichment because of suspicions it is trying to develop atomic weapons.

Ahmadinejad's government insists that the nonproliferation treaty gives Iran the right to enrich uranium for fueling civilian nuclear power plants, and he has given no ground in the international face-off.

The United States, Britain, and France maintain that Iran also wants enriched uranium for atomic bombs, which would violate its commitments under the treaty. Iran denies the charge, but Washington is pressing fellow members of the Security Council to impose economic sanctions.

Ahmadinejad said he was reconsidering Iran's adherence to the nonproliferation treaty, which is aimed at stopping the spread of atomic weapons while allowing peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and Iran's membership in the International Atomic Energy Agency, a UN watchdog body.

''What has more than 30 years of membership in the agency given us?" he said at the news conference.

''Working in the framework of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the agency is our concrete policy," he added. But if ''they are violating our rights, or they don't want to accept [our rights], well, we will reconsider."

Suspicions about Iran's intentions have grown since it was discovered in 2002 that the Tehran regime had for two decades secretly operated large-scale nuclear activities that could be used in making weapons.

The IAEA says it has since found no direct evidence of an arms program, but it also says the Iranians have not been fully forthcoming in answering questions about their nuclear activities.

After repeated attempts to resolve the issue through negotiations, the IAEA reported Iran to the Security Council for noncompliance. The council then gave Iran until Friday to suspend uranium enrichment.

Iran deepened international concerns by announcing April 11 that it had for the first time enriched uranium with 164 centrifuges, a step toward large-scale production of nuclear fuel.

Ahmadinejad also returned yesterday to his sharp verbal assaults on Israel.

''We say that this fake regime cannot logically continue to live," he said.

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