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Iran vows to pursue nuke technology

Foreign minister insists country's goal is 'peaceful'

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Iran stood defiant at the U.N., pledging to move ahead with its nuclear program.
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UNITED NATIONS (CNN) -- Iran's foreign minister said Tuesday that the country will press forward with its pursuit of "peaceful" nuclear technology, calling it an "unalienable right."

"It is unacceptable that some tend to limit access to peaceful nuclear technology to an exclusive club of technologically advanced states under the pretext of nonproliferation," Kamal Kharrazi told the summit on nuclear nonproliferation at the United Nations.

He insisted that Iran's intentions for pursuing all "legal areas" of nuclear technology, including enrichment, are exclusively for peaceful purposes, and the nation has been "eager to offer assurances and guarantees that they remain permanently peaceful."

Kharrazi's remarks followed a report last week that Iran plans to make a decision to resume uranium enrichment. Highly enriched uranium can be used as material for a nuclear weapon.

The purpose of the month-long summit, which began Monday, is to review the 35-year-old, 189-nation Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

It takes place at a time of concerns over North Korea's nuclear weapons aims after its withdrawal from the treaty in 2003 and about Iran's uranium enrichment program.

Kharrazi criticized as "abhorrent" the threats by nuclear weapon-holding countries -- specifically, the United States -- against those without nuclear weapons."

"Arbitrary and self-serving criteria and thresholds regarding proliferation-proof and proliferation-prone technologies and countries can and will only undermine the treaty," he said.

Kharrazi proposed the formation of a committee to work on a legally binding document that would provide security assurances from those countries.

Iran and the European Union have been unsuccessful in reaching an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program. Western nations are concerned that Iran plans to develop nuclear weaponry.

Last year, Iran froze uranium fuel work in an agreement with Britain, Germany and France, which have represented the EU in negotiations. The EU wants Iran to stop its enrichment activities.

The United States says it has ample reason to be concerned about Iran's nuclear activities.

"We are very focused on hoping that these negotiations do succeed," said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, after meeting Tuesday with EU representative Javier Solana.

"There needs to be a very clear commitment from the Iranians to live up to their international obligations not to seek a nuclear weapon under cover of civilian nuclear power," Rice said.

She added, "That means they can't have access to certain kinds of technology that have high proliferation risks. That's what this is all about."

"We don't want to get into a tit for tat with Iran," said Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, following Kharrazi's remarks.

"We have strongly held feelings about how we want to comply. ... The two years they spent hiding everything causes everyone to have concern."

Grenell was asked whether the United States planned to make good on its threat to send the matter to the U.N. Security Council.

"At this point ... we're waiting for the Europeans to tell us that the talks are over," he said.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said one of the U.S. goals at the summit was to "make clear that enrichment doesn't mean you can do anything you want under cover of enrichment for so long. ...

"When you have a country like Iran that's been using this program to that manner, we need to see the cessation of all such activities, if the international community's ever going to be satisfied that covert nuclear weapons activity is not going on."

Boucher said, "We continue to think that the burden is on Iran to satisfy the world that it's not going to develop nuclear weapons. There is no reason for them to have an enrichment and reprocessing program. We know how it's been used in the past."

On Monday, Secretary-General Kofi Annan challenged the United States and Russia to cut their own nuclear arsenals. (Full story)

He also urged nonweapons states like Iran to end their pursuit of nuclear technology in exchange for nuclear fuel supplies.

Last month, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Iran was nearing a "point of no return" in developing a nuclear weapon that could be used against Israel, Iran's declared enemy.

Kharrazi noted at the summit Tuesday that Israel's own "unrestricted access" to nuclear materials, equipment and technology had resulted in that country's having "one of the largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons, which has endangered regional and global peace and security."

Israel, he said, had rejected calls from the international community for it to accede to the non-proliferation treaty.

Besides Israel and North Korea, two other nations remain outside the treaty: India and Pakistan.

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