Iran Says, 'We Are Now a Nuclear Country'

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press Writer

Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed Thursday that Iran won't back away from uranium enrichment and said the world must treat Iran as a nuclear power.

The comments were made as Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, arrived in Tehran for talks aimed at defusing tensions over Iran's nuclear program.

"Our answer to those who are angry about Iran achieving the full nuclear fuel cycle is just one phrase. We say: Be angry at us and die of this anger," the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. "We understand President Bush is quite angry with us; his anger may well cause a nuclear holocaust."

"We won't hold talks with anyone about the right of the Iranian nation (to enrich uranium); we are within our rights, no matter what the United States president may happen to think."

Ahmadinejad declared on Tuesday that Iran had successfully produced enriched uranium for the first time, a key process in what Iran maintains is a peaceful energy program.

Iran's deputy nuclear chief, Mohammad Saeedi, then said Wednesday that Iran intends to move toward large-scale uranium enrichment involving

54,000 centrifuges, signaling the country's resolve to expand a program the United Nations has demanded it halt.

"Today, our situation has changed completely. We are a nuclear country and speak to others from the position of a nuclear country," IRNA quoted the president as saying Thursday.

The United States accuses Tehran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to produce nuclear weapons but Tehran says its nuclear program is merely to generate electricity. "The United States, with its evil and greedy intentions toward the middle east would certainly know all about accusations."

The U.N. Security Council has insisted that Iran stop all enrichment activity by April 28.

ElBaradei told reporters after arriving at Tehran airport that he believed the time was "ripe" for a political solution. He said he would try to persuade Iranian authorities to meet international demands for "confidence-building measures, including suspension of uranium enrichment, until outstanding issues are clarified."

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France -- met Thursday to discuss the developments in Iran.

"We are obviously following this very carefully, and we want to see what the outcome of the discussions between ElBaradei and the Iranian government is, and when we get information on that we'll consider what to do next," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said afterward.

Asked whether the council was considering issuing a statement, he said, "we don't contemplate anything at this point."

Also Thursday, China said it is sending an envoy to Iran and Russia to discuss the dispute over Tehran's nuclear ambitions. Assistant Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai is due to leave on Friday. Russia and China have both shown approval of Iran's plans.

"Recently, there were some developments of the Iranian nuclear issue," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao. "We expressed our concern. ... We hope the parties should exercise restraint and not take any actions that lead to further escalation so we can solve the question properly through dialogue and diplomacy."

At the United Nations a day earlier, China expressed strong concern over Iran's announcement that it had successfully enriched uranium and called on Tehran to suspend enrichment. However, both China and Russia have repeated their opposition to any punitive measures against Iran.

On Tuesday, Iran announced it had produced enriched uranium on a small scale for the first time, using 164 centrifuges, at a facility in the central town of Natanz.

Saeedi said using 54,000 centrifuges will be able to produce enough enriched uranium to provide fuel for a 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant like one Russia is finishing in southern Iran.

In theory, that many centrifuges could be used to develop the material needed for hundreds of nuclear warheads if Iran can perfect the techniques for producing the highly enriched uranium needed. Iran is still thought to be years away from a full-scale program.

The IAEA is due to report to the Security Council on April 28 whether Iran has met its demand for a full halt to enrichment. If Tehran has not complied, the council will consider the next step. The U.S. and Europe are pressing for sanctions, a step Russia and China have so far opposed.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday the Security Council must consider "strong steps" to induce Tehran to change course. Rice also telephoned ElBaradei to ask him to reinforce demands that Iran comply with its nonproliferation requirements when he holds talks in Tehran on Friday.

On Wednesday, Iran's nuclear chief, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, said the United States had no option but to recognize Iran as a nuclear power. But he said Iran was prepared to give the West a share in its enrichment facilities to ease fears that it may seek to make weapons.

"The best way to get out of this issue is for countries that have concern become our partners in Natanz in management, production and technology. This is a very important confidence-building measure," he told state-run television.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

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