- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2006

TEHRAN — Iran’s supreme leader said yesterday that Tehran’s nuclear program was “irreversible” and warned that any retreat in the face of international pressure would “break the country’s independence.”

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei took the tough line over the nuclear program hours before the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council discussed what action to take if Iran doesn’t back away from its atomic ambitions.

The five veto-wielding council members met for more than 1 hours yesterday. Russia and China remained at odds with the United States, Britain and France over the strength and focus of a Security Council statement on Iran’s nuclear program, which the three Western nations contend is trying to produce nuclear weapons.

Differences were mainly over a British-French draft demanding that Iran halt all uranium enrichment, which can be used to make nuclear arms. The draft also calls for a report within weeks on Iran’s progress toward answering questions about its nuclear program.

Russia and China say the draft does not leave enough room for diplomacy and focuses too much on possible Security Council action.

The White House said calls by Russia and China for a negotiated end to the standoff did not mean the end of U.S. hopes for a strong statement from the Security Council.

“That’s premature to get into that kind of discussion,” said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. “The discussions are ongoing.”

Iran and the West appeared to be on a collision course, as French President Jacques Chirac said Europe cannot make “the slightest concession” to Tehran on preventing proliferation of nuclear arms. He said Europe does not contest Iran’s right to civilian nuclear energy.

Ayatollah Khamenei, who holds final say in all state matters in Iran, ordered Tehran’s diplomats abroad to defend the country’s nuclear program, saying that backing down would force Iran to gradually give up all its foreign policy goals.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran considers retreat over the nuclear issue … as breaking the country’s independence, which will impose huge costs on the Iranian nation,” state television quoted the ayatollah as saying to diplomats brought home from Iranian embassies around the world for consultations with leaders in Tehran.

“Any retreat at this point will bring an unending chain of pressures and further retreats. Therefore, this path is irreversible, and the foreign policy establishment has to bravely defend Iran’s right,” he said.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also vowed yesterday to resist any pressure from the Security Council over Tehran’s nuclear program. Iran denies it is trying to produce nuclear weapons, saying it wants only to generate energy.

In a nationally televised speech in northern Iran, Mr. Ahmadinejad said “no power” can take nuclear technology away from Iran.

“Rest assured that the technology to produce nuclear fuel today is in the hands of the youth of this land, and no power can take it back from us,” he told the crowd of thousands, who chanted, “Nuclear energy is our right.”

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