- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 13, 2008

TEHRAN (AP) — Iran’s top leader demanded an end to U.N. Security Council oversight of the country’s nuclear program during a meeting yesterday with the chief of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, state-run television reported.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters in Iran, told International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei that the IAEA should exclusively handle Iranian nuclear questions — not the Security Council.

“There is no justification for Iran’s nuclear dossier to remain at the U.N. Security Council,” state TV quoted Ayatollah Khamenei as telling Mr. ElBaradei.

Iran is under two sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions for its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment, a potential pathway to nuclear arms, and Washington is pushing for additional U.N. penalties.

But a recent U.S. intelligence assessment that it probably shut down a clandestine weapons program three years ago has led to increased resistance to such a move from permanent Security Council members Russia and China, which have strategic and trade ties with Tehran.

Tehran says it never worked on atomic weapons and wants to enrich uranium only to produce fuel for reactors that would generate electricity.

Many Iranian officials, including hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have called the U.N. Security Council pressure unjustified, especially in the wake of recent IAEA reports saying Iran had increased cooperation with the agency. But yesterday’s statements were the first of this nature by Ayatollah Khamenei.

Mr. ElBaradei, who arrived Friday in Tehran, urged Iran to “accelerate” its cooperation with the agency so he could address outstanding questions before he presents his next report to the IAEA Board of Governors in March.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said during a separate meeting with Mr. ElBaradei yesterday that he hoped the IAEA would not be influenced by the “pressure of big powers” while probing Iran’s nuclear program.

“Some countries assume that the IAEA has been set up to enforce their policies,” state TV quoted Mr. Ahmadinejad as saying. “This assumption disturbs natural and just conditions.”

Ayatollah Khamenei said Iran would not succumb to U.S. pressure on its nuclear program.

“The Americans wrongly assume that they will be able to break the Islamic Republic of Iran by pressuring Iran over the nuclear issue, but they will not be able to bring the Iranian nation to its knees by raising this issue or other issues,” state TV quoted him as saying.

President Bush’s attempt to rally international pressure against Iran’s nuclear program has been complicated by the U.S. intelligence report released last month saying Iran stopped its atomic weapons program in 2003 and had not resumed it.

Washington and its allies say that even if Iran no longer has an active weapons program, it could easily resume such work unless strong international oversight is put in place.

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