October 22, 2007 / 12:46 PM / 11 years ago

Iran defiant on atomic plans

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran will not abandon its right to nuclear technology despite the threat of more sanctions, it told France in a letter published on Monday, a day before talks to try to defuse its row with the West.

Saeed Jalili, Iran's deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs, meets with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran in this February 26, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Fars News/Files

Western nations accuse Iran of seeking to build atomic bombs under cover of a civilian program, which Tehran denies.

The United States has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to end the standoff.

But the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said in an interview that Iran would need three to eight years to make a nuclear bomb, allowing time for negotiations.

Tuesday’s meeting in Rome was scheduled to be between European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Ali Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator whose resignation was announced on Saturday. He will now attend with his replacement.

The new chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, is a close ally of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Analysts say his appointment signals a shift to a more uncompromising line.

France, which has toughened its line against Tehran since President Nicolas Sarkozy took office in May, insisted before the talks that Iran must heed U.N. demands.

Tehran’s refusal to halt nuclear work that could, if Iran wanted, be used to make material for warheads has already prompted the U.N. Security Council to impose two sets of sanctions. World powers are considering a third round.

“Iran will not let its right to nuclear technology be suppressed ... Using tools like the Security Council, economic sanctions and other threats cannot deprive our nation and our government for a moment of their decision,” Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki wrote to his French counterpart.

France is pushing for stronger European Union sanctions against Tehran, as well as pressing for further U.N. measures.

French Economy Minister Christine Lagarde said there was a strong meeting of minds between Paris and Washington on Iran, and further economic pressure would be brought to bear.

“French policy in that regard has clearly strengthened and we have given notice to all French companies not to continue further investment,” she said at a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

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Mottaki wrote to French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner saying that France’s call for the EU to impose “unilateral sanctions” was illegal and violated the U.N. charter.

“You cannot talk about dialogue while following the path of pressure and threats,” he wrote, according to Iran’s ISNA news agency.

A French diplomat in Tehran confirmed the letter had been received a week ago. He did not give details.

In an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei said there was plenty of time for diplomacy, sanctions, dialogue and incentives to bear fruit.

“I cannot judge their intentions but, supposing that Iran does intend to acquire a nuclear bomb, it would need between another three and eight years to succeed,” he said.

Major powers have agreed to hold off on more penalties until at least November to see if Iran cooperates with the IAEA to explain its nuclear aims, and to await a report from Solana, who is representing world powers in talks with Iran.

Vice President Dick Cheney said on Sunday the world would not stand by and let Iran develop a nuclear weapon.

Iran has brushed off the U.S. threat of military action but has vowed to respond to any strikes.

As well as pressing for more U.N. measures, Washington has its own sanctions in place to punish firms dealing with Iran.

Russia’s LUKOIL said on Monday it had suspended work on an oilfield project in Iran due to U.S. sanctions. Its partner, Norway’s StatoilHydro, said it was still studying the project.

Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Reza Derakhshi in Tehran, Jon Boyle in Paris, Tanya Mosolova in Moscow, John Acher in Oslo and Swaha Pattanaik in New York

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