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Leader stands ground in Tehran on nuclear program

TEHRAN -- Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said yesterday that it was pointless for Europe to devise an incentive program if the package required Tehran to stop enriching uranium. This effectively thwarted the latest international diplomatic effort before it began.

Ahmadinejad spoke on state television after returning from Indonesia. He said proposals for a political and economic package being shaped by the European Union were ''invalid" if ''they want to offer us things they call incentives in return for renouncing our rights."

Also yesterday, a Foreign Ministry aide described as ''insignificant" reports that inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog agency had found traces of highly enriched uranium on equipment from an Iranian research center.

Ahmadinejad said opponents of Tehran's nuclear program were ''living in the era of colonialism" and did not respect Iran's sovereignty. Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is designed only to build electricity-generating reactors. The United States and some allies suspect that Tehran is hiding a program to make nuclear weapons.

Ahmadinejad's remarks appeared to have been aimed at a European Union foreign ministers meeting today in Brussels.

His effort would consider sweetening a package of incentives that would entice Iran to suspend its potential for uranium enrichment.

That issue has now reached the UN Security Council. It has been put on hold to give the EU time for diplomacy.

In August, Iran rejected an initial European initiative that included economic benefits.

Iran has stalled repeatedly on a Moscow offer in November to enrich uranium on Russian soil for use in Iranian reactors.

In January, the foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said that Iran would not give up control over a single step of the nuclear fuel cycle, from mining uranium to enriching it.

Iran, at that point, then announced that it was resuming uranium enrichment at the research level.

In February, the International Atomic Energy Agency board voted to report Iran to the United Nations Security Council, and Tehran vowed to start work immediately on full-scale uranium enrichment, and curtailed the International Atomic Energy Agency's powers in Iran, seeking to end what Iran called intrusive inspections.

At the Security Council, the United States, with limited backing from Britain and France, sought a tough resolution to declare Iran a threat to world peace and subject it to sanctions or even military action.

Russia and China, both of which hold vetoes in the council, opposed such measures. Given the divisions among the five permanent members of the council, which includes the United States, Britain, and France, Washington was forced to back down.

A document posted on the EU's website said the ministers were likely to express the organization's ''preparedness to support Iran's development of a safe, sustainable, and proliferation-proof civilian nuclear program, if international concerns were fully addressed."

But European officials said that no major progress on a final proposal could be expected at the Brussels meeting.

Iran also showed a determination not to step back, when a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hammed Reza Asefi, yesterday dismissed a report that International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors had found traces of highly enriched uranium on some of Iran's nuclear equipment.

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