Iran's president says he is withdrawing a proposal made in 2005 for an international consortium to enrich uranium - the fuel for both nuclear bombs and power plants - inside his country.
"This proposal is no longer on the table," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in an interview published Tuesday by the French daily Le Monde.
"But if others formulated it again, we would study it - under one condition: that the Iranian people's right to enrich uranium be preserved," the Iranian leader said.
He first made the consortium proposal at the U.N. General Assembly. He said then that Iran "is prepared to engage in serious partnership with private and public sectors of other countries in the implementation of uranium enrichment programs in Iran."
To Le Monde, Ahmadinejad noted that the United States and European nations had not favored his proposal. "They thought we formulated it only because we were in a position of weakness," he said.
Europe and the U.S. want Iran to suspend all enrichment work inside the country out of fear that Tehran could use the technology to produce weapons.
Push for sanctions
South Africa, meanwhile, is protesting a push by five veto-wielding Security Council members to adopt new United Nations sanctions against Iran, saying it wants to wait for a report from the U.N. nuclear agency later this month.
South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo said Tuesday that the International Atomic Energy Agency will issue a new report on Iran's nuclear activities by Feb. 20th.
"Why are we rushing? Can't we wait for it?" he said, speaking with reporters at the United Nations. "We just want to be sure that the council has all the information that it requires before it acts, but the timing is very important."
The five permanent members - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - circulated the text of their proposed new sanctions resolution on Friday night to South Africa and the nine other elected council members, who serve two-year terms.
The sanctions include bans on travel and equipment that can be used in civilian and nuclear programs, stepped up monitoring of Iran's financial institutions, and inspection of air and sea cargo heading to or from Iran.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said foreign ministers of the five powers, along with Germany, which has been a key negotiator with Iran, want council action soon. Delaying a vote until after the International Atomic Energy Agency report "is not the kind of understanding they had among the six foreign ministers," he said.
The six global powers offered Iran a package of economic incentives and political rewards in June 2006 if it agreed to freeze uranium enrichment before talks on its nuclear program. But Iran has refused, despite two previous sets of U.N. sanctions.
Iran insists its enrichment activities are intended only to produce fuel for nuclear reactors, but the United States, the European Union and others suspect its real aim is to produce atomic weapons.
South Africa's Kumalo said his government wants "clarity" on the inspections.
"What happens if you search the wrong boat that has nothing, because it may be an Iranian boat, and it may be an innocent one? They'll sue us," he said.
Iran says it will deal only with the IAEA, but the draft resolution encourages European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana "to continue communication with Iran ... with a view to create necessary conditions for resuming talks" on its nuclear program.