Defiant Iran could lower ties with UN atomic watchdog

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A defiant Iran threatened on Thursday to downgrade ties with the UN atomic energy watchdog, as Russia looked set to freeze the sale to Tehran of S300 air defence missiles in response to new UN sanctions on Iran.

Yet diplomats said Tehran was wavering between whether to take a confrontational stance or opt for talks after it being abandoned by allies Moscow and Beijing, who voted for the UN Security Council resolution.

A visibly angry Iran expressed defiance by warning Tehran could downgrade its ties with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"The majlis (parliament) ... will adopt on Sunday a top priority bill which talks of decreasing ties with the IAEA," Esmaeel Kosari, a member of its committee on national security and foreign policy, told Fars news agency.

That comes as hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad led a chorus of angry criticism after the sanctions were adopted by the UN Security Council.

"These resolutions are not worth a dime for the Iranian nation," said Ahmadinejad, who had earlier threatened to suspend negotiations with six major powers if the sanctions were imposed.

He said he had told world powers "that the resolutions you issue are like a used hanky which should be thrown in the dust bin."

Russia was the first country to speak of action following the adoption of a fourth set of sanctions over Iran's refusal to stop enriching uranium, which can be used to produce the fissile core of an atomic bomb.

Many world powers suspect that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon, but Tehran insists its nuclear programme is purely peaceful.

On Thursday, Moscow reportedly froze a contract to deliver S-300 air defence missiles to Tehran, a source told the Russian Interfax news agency.

"It is compulsory to fulfill a decision by the UN Security Council and Russia is not an exception here," said the source in the Federal Service for Military Technical Cooperation, which supervises Russian arms sales.

"Naturally, the contract for the delivery to Tehran of the S-300 air defence missile systems will be frozen," added the source, who was not named.

There was no official confirmation of the comments.

Russia agreed the missile deal years ago but has never delivered the weapons amid pressure from the United States and Israel, which fear they would dramatically improve Iran's defensive capabilities.

Neither the United States nor Israel has ever ruled out possible military action to prevent Iran developing nuclear weapons.

Despite the new sanctions, world powers maintained their dual-track approach of pressure through sanctions alongside negotiations.

US President Barack Obama said the UN measures were the "toughest-ever" against Iran but "do not close the door on diplomacy."

"Iran continues to have the opportunity to take a different and better path," he said.

Diplomats said the sanctions, which could soon be augmented by additional measures from individual powers, were a blow to Iran.

"More unilateral sanctions from the US and the EU are expected soon, which would significantly damage the economy," one diplomat told AFP in Tehran.

But Russia, seeking to cool frayed tempers, warned against unilateral action, saying that would be "unacceptable" for Moscow.

And online energy sector magazine BEDigest said: "since the sanctions do not target Tehran's energy or trade sectors directly, the current situation of trade and financial transactions with Iran will go on."

Despite Ahmadinejad's defiance, some top Iranian officials appeared to be cautious, indicating Tehran's dilemma on what route to take in the face of the new world measures.

"It is too early to know which path the Iranian leaders will choose," another diplomat in Tehran said, adding that the Islamic republic had been "snubbed diplomatically."

Iran atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi had said just before the vote that Iran could talk with some world powers over the nuclear fuel deal brokered by Brazil and Turkey last month but cold-shouldered by the West.


© 2010 AFP

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