Brazil's Lula defends Iran's nuclear rights

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Iran has the right to proceed with peaceful nuclear research and should not be punished just because of Western suspicions it wants to make an atomic bomb, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said on Tuesday.

“So far, Iran has committed no crime regarding the U.N. guidelines on nuclear weapons,” Lula told reporters as he prepared to return to Brazil after delivering a speech at the United Nations General Assembly.

“Nobody should be punished in advance,” said Lula, whose country started enriching uranium for its nuclear power plants last year, causing only limited international attention.

Meanwhile, concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions are among the hottest topics on the agenda of the U.N. assembly. French President Nicolas Sarkozy said failure to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons could destabilize the world.

Tehran insists it seeks to master technology to generate atomic power although Western nations believe it is running a covert bomb program.

The United Nations has demanded Iran halt its nuclear enrichment program, and has slapped two rounds of sanctions on Tehran for refusing. The United States is pressing for a third round of sanctions.

“If Iran wants to enrich uranium, if it wants to handle the nuclear issue in a peaceful way like Brazil does, that is Iran’s right,” Lula said, adding however that all countries are subject to U.N. guidelines.

Iran agreed with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, on August 21 to explain the scope of its nuclear program.

Iran’s Natanz enrichment plant is expected to start producing usable quantities of nuclear fuel in the coming months. Such plants can also produce uranium for weapons.

Reporting by Walter Brandimarte