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Iran warns it won't end uranium enrichment

VIENNA -- Iran's supreme leader threatened to pull out of negotiations if European countries press their demand for total suspension of uranium enrichment, as a new round of talks ended yesterday without an agreement to avert the possible threat of UN sanctions.

Britain, France, and Germany are trying to work out a deal that would avoid a standoff with Iran over its nuclear program, which the United States says aims to develop nuclear weapons.

The Europeans are offering Iran incentives -- a trade deal and peaceful nuclear technology, including a light-water research reactor -- in return for a halt in enrichment, which can produce fuel for both nuclear energy and atomic weapons.

They have warned that most European states will back Washington's call to refer Iran's nuclear file to the UN Security Council for possible economic sanctions if Tehran doesn't give up all uranium enrichment activities before the Nov. 25 meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog.

In talks yesterday, Iran's delegates insisted on the right to enrich uranium. And supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all issues in Iran, ruled out any long-term suspension of the program, calling it "a discussion without logic."

"If there is any form of threat in the talks, it will show a lack of logic on the part of [Iran's] partners in the negotiations," he said, according to state-run television in Tehran. "In that case, the great Iranian nation and the Islamic Republic of Iran will reconsider the very basis of negotiations and cooperation."

Sirus Naseri, an Iranian delegate at the talks in Vienna, said "total suspension will not be accepted under any circumstances."

Diplomats have called the EU package a "last chance" offer ahead of the key Nov. 25 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The meeting could result in Tehran's defiance being reported to the UN Security Council, which has the authority to impose punishing sanctions.

Still, Iranian negotiators held out the possibility of a compromise with the Europeans. The Iranians and British officials said more talks would be held soon.

Hossein Mousavian, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA, told Iran's state-run radio yesterday that Iran has not ruled out a compromise with the Europeans before the IAEA meeting.

"We haven't closed the door for an understanding before the November meeting, but will reach compromise if there is a balanced package of agreements. Obligations and confidence-building measures have to be bilateral," said Mousavian, adding that the agreement had to be clear and contain a timetable.

"There has to be no discrimination against Iran," he said.

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