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Iran Asserts Right To Enrich Uranium

Iran insisted Monday on its right to enrich uranium, expressing reluctance to suspend the key nuclear process as a condition for negotiations over a package of incentives offered by the world powers.

Iran has not responded formally to the incentives that are intended to persuade it to step back from enrichment. But it has said that parts of the package were acceptable, others were not, and the key issue of uranium enrichment — a process that can make fuel for a nuclear power plant or material for an atomic bomb — needed clarification.

At a news conference Monday, Iranian spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham gave no indication of when Iran would reply to the package presented June 6.

When asked if Iran would suspend enrichment for the sake of negotiations — as the world powers, notably the United States, have demanded — Elham avoided a direct answer, but repeated the government line that enrichment was Iran's "obvious right."

"Our country will not negotiate over its obvious rights," he said. "This is a non-negotiable issue."

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said Sunday that the incentive package was "unclear" on enrichment.

"These are things where the finishing touches must be made," Larijani told reporters in Cairo after talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Arab League chief Amr Moussa.

Egypt is one of the members of the U.N. nuclear watchdog's board of directors, which the United States and Europe are lobbying efforts to pressure Iran to accept the deal. The directors of the watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, met Monday in Vienna.

Larijani warned Iran would reject the package outright if Western powers threatened to apply sanctions.

"We will not accept negotiations under pressure," he said.

The package, presented by permanent Security Council members the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain, plus Germany, contains a series of incentives for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. They include promises that the United States and Europe will provide Iran nuclear technology and that Washington will join direct talks with Tehran.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Sunday that Iran would not be rushed into responding to the package. It would take "as long as is necessary" to study it.

However, EU foreign policy supremo Javier Solana said Monday he expected Iran to respond "this week." He spoke to reporters in Luxembourg where the European Union was holding a foreign ministers meeting.

Asefi said the package includes "points which are acceptable. There are points which are ambiguous. There are points that should be strengthened, and points that we believe should not exist." He did not give specifics.

The United States accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, which Tehran denies, saying its program seeks only to develop energy.

But the package drops demands for an all-out scrapping of enrichment, instead asking Iran to suspend such activity during the duration of any negotiations.

In two position papers shown to the AP, the United States and Europe were lobbying hard for support of the package at Monday's meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"We are ... encouraging all board members to make firm statements to call on Iran" to negotiate on the six-power offer, the U.S. position paper said.

If Tehran declines, the text warned that the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany "have agreed to pursue measures, including at the U.N. Security Council, (to) pressure the Iranian regime to change course."

The other text, issued by Britain, France and Germany, also warned that if Iran remains defiant, "the Security Council will have no choice but to increase the pressure on Iran."

The texts were shared with the AP by diplomats accredited to the gathering.

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