Tehran refutes French nuclear finger-pointing

16th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

PARIS, Feb 16, 2006 (AFP) - France branded Iran's nuclear programme as a "clandestine, military" project for the first time Thursday, sparking a sharp protest from Tehran in its international standoff with the West.

PARIS, Feb 16, 2006 (AFP) - France branded Iran's nuclear programme as a "clandestine, military" project for the first time Thursday, sparking a sharp protest from Tehran in its international standoff with the West.

Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told French radio that the nuclear activities being undertaken by Iran could not be explained away as part of a drive for civilian energy supplies.

His allegations, for which he won some support from his British counterpart Jack Straw, were the first time a top European official has made such explicit claims against Tehran and highlights increasing EU exasperation.

The French foreign ministry later reiterated France's official position, which is that Tehran's nuclear activities "raise doubts about their peaceful nature," but did not repeat the words "clandestine" and "military."

Iran hit back, insisting it was not seeking to develop atomic weapons and regretting the comments by Douste-Blazy, whose country is part of a European Union troika that has been trying to negotiate with Tehran.

The United States and Europe are pushing for a UN Security Council response on the programme and are awaiting a March 6 report by the UN nuclear watchdog which will be crucial in deciding what action, if any, is taken.

"It's very simple: no civilian nuclear programme can explain Iran's nuclear programme," Douste-Blazy told France 2 television, two days after Tehran said it was resuming sensitive uranium enrichment work. "Therefore it's a clandestine military nuclear programme."

Douste-Blazy said the international community had been united and firm in demanding security guarantees from Iran that its programme is peaceful.

"Firstly, the international community has sent a very strong message to the Iranians: show reason, suspend all nuclear activities and uranium enrichment," Douste-Blazy said, adding: "And they're not listening to us.

"That is the reason why, for the first time for days, the international community is united. It's not just the Europeans — France, Germany and the British —  it's also Russia and China."

Uranium enrichment is a process that can be used both to make fuel for a power station or, in a highly enriched form, the explosive core of a nuclear bomb.

"Contrary to all the propaganda against us, we are not seeking a nuclear bomb, since we are a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)," Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani retorted.

"It is Western propaganda that keeps on saying that Iran is seeking a bomb, but it is not true," Larijani, who is also the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told France Inter radio.

He said he was "very sorry" to hear Douste-Blazy's comments. "It is better for France to use its position to solve the issue, complicating the situation is easy, but diplomats should refrain from harsh comments."

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, for his part, said during a visit to Algeria there were "strong suspicions internationally it (Iran) may be seeking to use its nuclear programme in order to develop a weapons capability."

However, he underlined that "we do not have absolute proof, we do not have conclusive evidence of this. There are strong suspicions."

Larijani reaffirmed that Iran was ready to continue negotiations with the Europeans. The talks, due to have taken place last month, never materialized because of Iran's resumption of enrichment-related activities.

Iran insists uranium enrichment resumed at its Natanz plant is small scale in nature, for research purposes only, and not on an industrial scale.

In Washington meanwhile US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed the diplomatic attack, branding Tehran the "central banker" for global terrorism and accusing it of working with Syria to destabilize the Middle East.

Separately, by 404 votes to four, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning Iran for resuming its nuclear programme.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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