Ahmadinejad marks revolution anniversary asserting Iran won't halt uranium enrichment

Sunday, February 11th 2007, 4:12 pm
By: News On 6

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed Sunday that Iran would not give up uranium enrichment but he otherwise refrained from making fiery statements during celebrations on the 28th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.

The hard-line president said he was prepared to negotiate with the international community and his speech fell short of an expected announcement that Iran had started installing 3,000 centrifuges to enrich uranium at its Natanz plant.

Ahmadinejad's may have tempered his usual firebrand style in view of the U.N. Security Council demand that Iran halt enrichment by a deadline later this month or face additional sanctions.

Ahmadinejad's relative restraint is also widely believed to show the influence of moderates within the ruling Islamic establishment telling him not to make provocative statements that could heighten tensions between Iran and the West.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator said Sunday that Iran poses no threat to Israel, also suggesting the government was trying to project a less aggressive image.

Iran says the aim of its nuclear program is to generate electricity but the United States and some of its allies fear the Islamic republic wants to create the fissile core of nuclear warheads. They have made halting uranium enrichment the main precondition for holding talks on Iran's nuclear program.

The United States added to its accusations against Iran on Sunday when a defense official said high-level Iranian officials were arming Shiite militants in Iraq with sophisticated armor-piercing roadside bombs that have killed more than 170 American troops.

Iran has crossed ``the arduous passes and stabilized its definite (nuclear) right,'' Ahmadinejad told crowds. He said the program would remain within the limits of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that bans production of nuclear weapons.

``We are prepared for dialogue but won't suspend our activities. ... The government will defend the rights of the Iranian nation within the framework of the law.''

At a security conference in Germany, Iran's top nuclear negotiator said Sunday its nuclear program is not a threat to Israel or any other nation.

``That Iran is willing to threaten Israel is wrong,'' Ali Larijani said. ``We pose no threat and if we are conducting nuclear research and development we are no threat to Israel. We have no intention of aggression against any country.''

But Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said he believed Iran was trying to convince the international community that its intentions are benign. ``The fact is that they have failed in this attempt and there is a wall-to-wall consensus that the Iranian nuclear program is indeed military and aggressive and a threat to world peace.''

Ahmadinejad said Iran's nuclear technology advances will gradually be made public over the next two months until April 9. He did not explain what would happen on that date, but it marks the one year anniversary of Iran's announcement that it had enriched uranium for the first time.

The Iranian leader implied last week that Tehran would announce that it had begun installing a new assembly of 3,000 centrifuges in an underground portion of its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, in central Iran.

Iran now has two cascades of 164 centrifuges each that have been operating sporadically at the aboveground portion of the Natanz facility producing small quantities of non-weapons grade enriched uranium, IAEA inspectors say.

The head of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog on Sunday welcomed Iran's willingness to resume negotiations, but said nothing short of ``full transparency'' on Iran's part will bring the two sides to the negotiating table.

``I am still hopeful that they will move forward to try and find a way to get into negotiation. (Larijani) mentioned that they are ready to work with the agency, and I think that is positive,'' Mohamed El-Baradei told Associated Press Television News

``If they (Iran) adopt a policy of full transparency then we can (resolve the issue).''

The Security Council approved limited economic sanctions on Dec. 23 over Iran's refusal to halt enrichment and has threatened to impose further sanctions later this month if it continues to refuse to roll back its program.

Ahmadinejad's comments Sunday were part of a speech that was broadcast live during nationwide rallies marking the anniversary of the revolution. On Feb. 11, 1979, Iran's imperial armed forces withdrew support for the U.S.-backed monarchy and declared its allegiance to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini after a popular peaceful uprising throughout Iran. Khomeini's followers seized control of the capital and two months later declared Iran an Islamic republic.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has said it has found no evidence that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, but the watchdog has suspended some aid to Iran and criticized the country for concealing certain nuclear activities and failing to answer questions about its program.