Iran nuclear program won't stop, leader says

Six world powers to meet today to talk about the next step

February 26, 2007|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- As six leading world powers prepared for a crucial meeting today to respond to Iran's defiant nuclear-enrichment activities, the Iranian president remained undeterred and unapologetic yesterday, saying the nuclear program had no "reverse gear."

That comment, by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, drew a simple retort from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said: "They don't need a reverse gear. They need a stop button."

Rice emphasized that she remained ready for high-level talks - anytime, anywhere, on any topic - if Tehran would simply halt its nuclear work.

"I am prepared to meet my counterpart or the Iranian representative at any time, if Iran will suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities. That should be a clear signal," Rice said on the ABC News program This Week.

But Iran has insisted that it is merely pursuing technology to produce fuel for nuclear power plants, and Ahmadinejad said the work would go on.

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, at their meeting today in London, are expected to consider trade and other sanctions against Iran, four days after the U.N. nuclear inspection agency reported that Tehran was continuing its enrichment work in defiance of Security Council demands.

Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of seven Muslim countries met in Islamabad, Pakistan, and warned of a "dangerous escalation" between the West and Iran, the Associated Press reported. They called for a peaceful resolution.

The ministers represented Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Pakistan. But the Pakistani government has denied reports in the Arab news media that it aims to build a united Sunni bloc in opposition to mainly Shiite Iran.

A weekend launch of an Iranian rocket momentarily raised concerns, seen at first as a possible demonstration - at a critical moment - of technology that could be used to build intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Ali Akbar Bolrou, executive deputy of the Iranian aerospace research center, later told the Fars News Agency that the rocket was suborbital, incapable of reaching space, and was intended for atmospheric research, Reuters reported from Tehran.

And while Rice seemed intent on signaling to Tehran that it was not too late to enter talks aimed at improving relations with the West, Vice President Dick Cheney said Saturday that Iranian atomic ambitions must be curbed.

The six countries meeting in London are expected to consider imposing a mandatory travel ban against some Iranians linked to Tehran's nuclear activities and expanding the list of individuals and companies hit by economic sanctions.

But Russia and China, which have strong trade links to Iran, prevented the other Security Council permanent members from issuing such a travel ban in December.

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