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Iran vows to follow nuclear path despite sanctions
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian leaders vowed on Wednesday to press on with Tehran's disputed nuclear work regardless of any new U.N. sanctions, one day after world powers agreed the outline of a new resolution.
"The Iranian nation has chosen its path and will continue with it," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the student news agency ISNA.
"Such illegal behavior (by Western powers) ... will not divert the Iranian nation from its path."
The United States and other Western powers fear Iran's nuclear activities are aimed at building nuclear weapons. Iran, the world's fourth-largest crude oil exporter, says its nuclear program is intended to generate electricity.
World powers agreed on Tuesday on the outline of a third sanctions resolution against Iran, but diplomats said the draft did not contain the punitive economic measures Washington had been pushing for.
The West has faced a diplomatic showdown with Iran since 2002 and the U.N. Security Council has already imposed two sets of sanctions, in December 2006 and March 2007.
Washington has spearheaded a drive for new sanctions and had been pushing for a new resolution to impose a ban on business with leading Iranian state banks.
But that drive appears to have failed. Russia and China, both commercial partners of Iran, have hardened their opposition to tough sanctions since a U.S. intelligence report last month said Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Berlin on Tuesday after a nearly two-hour meeting with his counterparts from Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, that the new draft of a sanctions resolution would be presented to the U.N. Security Council in the coming weeks.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said it was not tough or punitive and "welcomes the progress made between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ..."
"The measures in this draft do not have a tough sanctioning character," Lavrov said on Wednesday.
He said the new draft would "call on countries to be alert in their transport relations with Iran so that those relations are not used to transport (potentially dangerous) materials".
His remarks suggested the United States failed to win agreement in Berlin on punitive economic sanctions against Iran.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sounded a conciliatory note after weeks of anti-Iranian rhetoric by the Bush administration and repeated her offer to develop normal ties with Tehran if it gave up sensitive nuclear work.
"If Iran would suspend its uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities - which is an international demand, not just an American one - then we could begin negotiations, and we could work over time to build a new, more normal relationship," she told the World Economic Forum in Switzerland.
IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei won agreement from Iran this month to answer remaining questions about its past covert nuclear work within four weeks. Western diplomats say expectations are low that Tehran will be forthcoming.
On Wednesday, diplomats familiar with IAEA-Iran relations told Reuters Iran has allowed top U.N. nuclear monitors to visit an advanced centrifuge development site for the first time in a gesture of transparency about its disputed atomic drive.
Iran says it has accelerated its cooperation with the IAEA and Ahmadinejad said there was "good" cooperation.
Iran's foreign minister said on Wednesday Tehran believes progress in talks with the IAEA will stop further sanctions.
"We believe that the evolution of the process (with the IAEA) will destroy that agreement," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters in Lisbon when asked about an agreement on further sanctions against Iran agreed this week.
"We should focus on our talks with the IAEA," Mottaki said.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, told a committee of the European Parliament during a visit to Brussels that Tehran had a right to enrich uranium.
"Iran has gone beyond its obligations," he said.
He met European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, although Solana's spokeswoman said the discussion was a general exchange of views that did not enter into details.
"The meeting was designed to keep a channel of communication open, taking advantage of Jalili's visit to Brussels," she said.
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