Iran nuclear negotiator calls for atomic arms ban

AP News
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Posted: Dec 21, 2009 9:12 AM

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator called for a global nuclear weapons ban on Monday but insisted all nations _ including his own _ have the right to develop nuclear energy.

Visiting Tokyo to meet with senior Japanese officials, Saeed Jalili said his country's nuclear program is for civilian purposes, although the U.S. and other nations fear its goal is to produce weapons.

"The crime that was committed in Hiroshima must never be repeated," Jalili told reporters at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, referring to the United States' dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, at the end of World War II.

"All the efforts of the world should be directed toward the eradication of these weapons," he said.

The administration of President Barack Obama _ who has also called for a world free of nuclear weapons _ has given a rough deadline of year-end for Iran to respond to an offer of engagement and show that it would allay world concerns about its nuclear program.

At the same time that it is trying to engage with Iran, the Obama administration has also been building momentum toward imposing more sanctions after the revelation in September that Iran was secretly building a second uranium-enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom.

In Paris on Monday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said the international community has no other choice but to impose new U.N. sanctions on Iran for its refusal to cooperate on its nuclear program.

Kouchner said Russia was already "on board" with the need for sanctions, and that he believed "the Chinese will follow."

"I think there is no other solution," Kouchner told journalists.

America's top military officer agreed Monday that Tehran shows no sign of backing down in the standoff and said that military force must therefore remain an option.

"My belief remains that political means are the best tools to attain regional security and that military force will have limited results," Adm. Mike Mullen wrote in an annual assessment of the nation's risks and priorities. "However, should the president call for military options, we must have them ready."

U.S. Sen. John McCain, Republican of Arizona, emphasized to television network ABC on Monday, however, that "sanctions have to be tried before we explore the last option," like a military attack.

For now, the U.S. and its allies are pressing Tehran to accept a U.N.-brokered plan under which Iran would ship the majority of its low-enriched uranium out of the country. That would temporarily leave Iran without enough uranium stockpiles to enrich further to produce a nuclear weapon.

Under the plan, the low-enriched uranium would be converted into fuel rods that would be returned to Iran for use in a research reactor in Tehran that produces medical isotopes. Fuel rods cannot be further enriched into weapons-grade material.

Iran has balked at the plan, and Jalili dodged questions Monday about Tehran's response to it. He accused the West of trying to "monopolize" the nuclear fuel supply by rejecting Iranian offers to buy fuel rods for its research reactor and then by making conditions on the uranium swap.

The U.N.-brokered plan was seen by the U.S. and its negotiating partners as a step toward building confidence in Iran's claim that its nuclear program is designed only for civilian pursuits _ medical purposes and to generate electricity.

"The Tehran reactor is for pharmaceutical use, for humanitarian use," Jalili said. "Using nuclear energy is the right of every nation."

On Monday, Jalili, who will visit Hiroshima this week, met with Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, who voiced strong concern over Iran's nuclear program, according to a Foreign Ministry official who declined to be named.

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Associated Press writers Anne Gearan in Washington and Deborah Seward in Paris contributed to this report.