- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

VIENNA, Austria — Despite a U.N. Security Council deadline, Iran called yesterday for talks with the United States — but did not budge on council demands that it mothball its uranium-enrichment program or face harsher sanctions.

Amid Iran’s nuclear defiance, the U.N. nuclear watchdog finalized a report to be released today that is expected to formally confirm the Islamic republic’s refusal to freeze enrichment — a conclusion that could subject it to tougher U.N. sanctions.

Officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency said the report by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the Vienna-based U.N. agency, would say Iran has expanded enrichment efforts instead of freezing them.

Once released, the report will be sent to the agency’s 35-nation board and to the Security Council, which set a deadline of yesterday for a freeze and said Iranian defiance could lead to sanctions in addition to those imposed in December.

In remarks directed at Washington — the key backer of tougher U.N. action — Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said yesterday the dispute “has to be decided peacefully with the United States.”

But other top Iranian officials used harsher language, and none showed signs of compromise on the main demand of the United States and other world powers — a halt to enrichment and related activities.

“The enemy is making a big mistake if it thinks it can thwart the will of the Iranian nation to achieve the peaceful use of nuclear technology,” Iranian state TV’s Web site quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying. On Tuesday, he said Iran was ready to halt its enrichment program, but only if Western nations do the same. The White House dismissed Mr. Ahmadinejad’s call.

The United States and its allies suspect Iran is using its nuclear program to produce an atomic weapon — charges Iran denies, saying its aim is to generate electricity. Enriched to a low level, uranium is used to produce nuclear fuel, but further enrichment makes it suitable for a bomb.

Iran has rejected the Security Council resolution as “illegal” and said it would not give up its right to enrich under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

No new U.N. sanctions were expected immediately.

Meanwhile in New Delhi, India announced yesterday it has banned all exports and imports to and from Iran that could contribute to Tehran’s nuclear program.

“Direct or indirect export and import of all items, materials, equipment, goods and technology which could contribute to Iran’s enrichment-related … activities to/from Iran is prohibited,” a commerce ministry statement said.

It said the move is a result of sanctions against Iran imposed by the U.N. Security Council in December. Nuclear-armed and energy-hungry India has repeatedly called for dialogue to resolve the row over Tehran’s suspect nuclear ambitions.

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