Minister defends Iran nuclear plans after U.S. threat

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Iran’s foreign minister responded on Thursday to the United States’ latest threat to punish Tehran over its nuclear program by reiterating that the program was for peaceful purposes.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki addresses a news conference after the International Somali donors conference in Brussels April 23, 2009. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

The minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, declined to make any further comment on remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday in which she threatened crippling sanctions against Iran if it did not halt its nuclear program.

“...My advice to Madam Clinton (is) to study about the peaceful activities of the Iranian nuclear program,” Mottaki told reporters through a translator in Brussels after attending an international donors conference on Somalia.

Clinton made her remarks after Iran issued an official statement which said it believed discussions could resolve disputes between the Islamic republic and the West, but said Tehran would press ahead with its work to develop atomic energy.

The statement was Tehran’s response to an invitation this month by six world powers to discuss the nuclear issue, Iranian state television said.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last week Iran had prepared proposals to end the dispute, but gave no details.

The United States and its Western allies suspect Iran wants to develop nuclear bombs under the cover of a civilian program and want it to halt uranium enrichment, a process which can be used to make fuel for power plants or material for warheads.

Iran rejects the allegation and says its program is intended only to generate electricity.

Mottaki said he had been greeted at the conference by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana but they had not had talks.

“We have always underlined and supported dialogue and logical negotiations. We need to be patient to see how things will evolve,” he said.

Solana spoke by phone to Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator on Wednesday but did not agree on any time for further contacts. An EU spokeswoman said they had discussed holding a meeting involving Iran’s negotiator and an aide to Solana but no date was set.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Writing by Timothy Heritage