Page last updated at 19:14 GMT, Saturday, 2 August 2008 20:14 UK

Iran defiant on nuclear deadline

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Mr Ahmadinejad remains adamant Iran's nuclear programme is peaceful

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said his country will not retreat "one iota" on its nuclear programme.

He was speaking after meeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is on a two-day visit to Tehran.

The meeting coincided with an informal deadline set by Western officials in a dispute over Tehran's uranium enrichment plans.

Mr Assad had promised France he would use his ties with Iran to help resolve its nuclear stand-off with the West.

In a statement published on the Iranian president's website, Mr Ahmadinejad said: "In whichever negotiation we take part... it is unequivocally with the view to the realisation of Iran's nuclear right, and the Iranian nation would not retreat one iota from its rights."

He said that international agreements meant Iran, like every other country, had the right to engage in uranium enrichment and possess nuclear power stations.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had earlier urged Iran to give a "clear answer" on a deal offered by the international community, telling it to "stop dallying".

But Iran had said it had no intention of observing the 14-day deadline attached to the offer, a deadline that ran out on Saturday.

The offer pledged not to impose new sanctions in return for halting uranium enrichment.

Assad pledge

Tehran has claimed consistently that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes, but the US and its allies believe it could be used to develop a nuclear weapon.

During a visit to Paris in July, Mr Assad had promised French President Nicolas Sarkozy he would try to persuade Iran to offer proof it is not developing nuclear weapons.

Iranian nuclear facility at Isfahan (file photo)
Iran appears to be pressing ahead with its nuclear programme

But, says the BBC's Jon Leyne in Tehran, it would be hard to see him persuading Mr Ahmadinejad to meet Western demands on the nuclear issue.

With Israel and Syria holding indirect peace talks, our correspondent adds, it is more likely that Mr Assad's visit is aimed at reassuring Tehran about the alliance between Iran and Syria.

Iran was set the informal deadline on 19 July after its chief nuclear negotiator met officials from the UN, EU and the US in Geneva.

It was the first time senior officials from the US and Iran had held face-to-face talks on the issue.

In an interview with the weekly Der Spiegel, Mr Steinmeier appealed to the Iranians to provide an answer to the offer.

"I appeal again to the Iranian side no longer to play for time, but to give us a usable answer to our offers - stop dallying," he said.

But Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said no deadline had been agreed.

"We have not had any discussion [or] agreement of the so-called timeline of two weeks," he said.


Meanwhile, Israel's deputy prime minister warned that Iran was near a breakthrough in its nuclear programme.

Shaul Mofaz, a frontrunner to succeed Ehud Olmert as prime minister later in the year, said Iran could be capable of producing uranium for military use by 2010.

The UN Security Council has already imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran.

The US has hinted that a fourth could follow if the current offer is rejected by Tehran.

On the face of it, our correspondent says, Iran is pressing ahead with its nuclear programme with no immediate prospect of new sanctions, but the Iranian government must be worried that it faces the danger of steadily growing international isolation.

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