ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
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And I'm Michele Norris.
Iran's nuclear ambitions are a major worry in Washington and other world capitals. In Tehran, it's something altogether different. In interviews with NPR this week, both Iran's foreign minister and its chief nuclear negotiator insisted that Iran will never stop enriching uranium.
SIEGEL: Diplomats from Europe and other nations are trying to diffuse the growing crisis over Iran's nuclear program. The aim is to suspend uranium enrichment for a time with later negotiations to bring an end to the potential confrontation. But the Iranian government has decided it will not agree to such an arrangement even if that means harsher sanctions from the U.N. Security Council.
NPR's Mike Shuster reports from Tehran.
MIKE SHUSTER: Iran's leadership appears more united than ever about its nuclear program and how to deal with the challenges to it. The time for the suspension of uranium enrichment has passed, said Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki in an interview earlier this week. Mottaki dismissed the two rounds of sanctions imposed on Iran in the past year and said tougher sanctions won't work.
MANOUCHEHR MOTTAKI: And rules in today's world, the instrument of sanctions is no longer effective.
SHUSTER: Right now, Iran is involved in talks on this issue with the European Union. The E.U. has put a proposal on the table whereby Iran would stop installing additional gas centrifuges, which make enriched uranium at its facility at Natanz, as a step toward holding substantive negotiations. A senior Iranian official with intimate knowledge of the diplomacy said Iran will not agree to this. This will almost certainly lead to more pressure from the Bush administration to apply tougher sanctions on Iran. Foreign Minister Mottaki said that would not persuade Iran to back down.
MOTTAKI: (Through translator) It will be the start of a confrontation.
SHUSTER: What kind of confrontation, Mottaki would not say. But the senior Iranian official observed that such an outcome would lead Iran to take what he called illegal steps. By illegal, the official hinted, Iran then might opt to stop cooperation altogether with the International Atomic Energy Agency, which continues to carry out regular inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities, or to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
In its ongoing talks with Europe, Iran has offered alternative proposals. The Iranian government wants to focus now on guarantees that its nuclear program will never be used for military purposes. But all of Tehran's proposals involve continuing to enrich uranium inside Iran. One is the idea of an international consortium controlling Iran's nuclear facilities. Chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said he recently proposed this to Javier Solana, who represents the European Union.
ALI LARIJANI: (Through translator) I said we could put all our nuclear activities under a consortium that would be under the supervision of a number of international countries - that you can have participation in it as well as the supervision. And he accepted. He liked this idea. But, again, this idea also did not receive much attention.
SHUSTER: Larijani, too, dismissed the significance of economic sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council. In the past year, though, the U.S. Treasury Department has imposed financial sanctions of its own on two Iranian banks said to be connected to the nuclear program and to Iran's Revolutionary Guards. These sanctions are believed to be eroding Iran's access to the global financial system. Larijani insisted Iran could live with those sanctions as well and would never give up its right to nuclear technology.
LARIJANI: (Through translator) I cannot say it is not causing us problem. But if the U.S. Treasury is thinking that by such approaches they would be able to force us to turn a blind eye to this right of ours, that is wrong.
SHUSTER: As for the possibility of a U.S. attack on Iran's nuclear facilities - an option widely discussed in the United States - Iran's leaders seem supremely confident that with its troubles in Iraq and with President Bush weakened politically by last year's election, the U.S. is unable to resort to military action.
We believe the U.S. is not in a position to impose a new war on the American taxpayer, Foreign Minister Mottaki said. But he acknowledged that there are those who do favor military action against Iran.
MOTTAKI: (Through translator) This does not mean that there are absolutely no persons in the U.S. administration or in other places that do not continue to beat the drums of war.
SHUSTER: Still, Iran appears to have decided to be a bit more open about its nuclear activities. In the past two weeks, it has agreed to address some of the unanswered questions that have troubled the International Atomic Energy Agency about those activities. And next week, it will permit inspectors from the IAEA to visit Arak, where Iran is building a nuclear reactor that could produce plutonium. Iran cut off the agency's access to the site several months ago.
Mike Shuster, NPR News, Tehran.
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