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Cleric says EU is US puppet { March 10 2006 }

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Iran cleric scorns EU role in standoff

By Alireza Ronaghi
Friday, March 10, 2006; 7:48 AM

TEHRAN (Reuters) - A hardline Iranian cleric denounced the European Union as a U.S. puppet on Friday and the EU's foreign policy chief raised the prospect of slapping targeted sanctions on Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

The U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, will tackle Iran's case early next week after the U.N. nuclear watchdog sent it a report this week saying it could not verify that Iran's nuclear plans were purely peaceful.

No rush to punitive measures is expected. The council is likely first to issue a statement urging Iran to comply with resolutions by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it halt all uranium enrichment activities.

Ahmad Khatami, leading Friday prayers in Tehran, said recourse to the council after 2-1/2 years of EU-Iran talks on the nuclear dispute proved European subservience to Washington.

"The issue showed that the EU, despite its gesture of independence, is intimidated," he said in a sermon broadcast live on state radio. "It is a puppet of U.S. policies."

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana spoke for the first time of possible sanctions against Iran, but other EU officials stressed the need to maintain big-power consensus.

In an interview with Austria's Der Standard daily, published as EU foreign ministers began a two-day meeting in Salzburg, Solana said Iran must allay concerns it wants the bomb.

"I do not rule out sanctions, but it depends on what kind of sanctions they are," Solana was quoted as saying in his first explicit mention of economic measures against Iran.

"We certainly do not want to hurt the Iranian people," he added. "It won't be easy for the Security Council."

The United States, which has its own sweeping sanctions in place against Iran, has been pressing for tougher international action to isolate the Islamic Republic. Iran says it wants nuclear technology only to generate energy for civilian use.


Khatami said U.S. President George W. Bush was using the nuclear issue to further his goal of toppling Iran's government.

"Bush talks of regime change or change of its behavior, which is the same. It means no Islamic regime and the rest is just excuses," he said. "Today the problem is nuclear energy. As soon as it is over, the problem of human rights will come up and right after that will be the issue of fighting terrorism."

The EU wants to keep the focus on the widely shared goal of stopping Iran acquiring nuclear bomb technology.

Ambassadors from the Security Council's five permanent members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- meet again on Friday to draft a statement the Western powers hope will be adopted by the 15-nation council next week.

Russia and China strongly oppose sanctions on Iran.

"Our goal is political, not at all punitive," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told RTL radio when asked if France backed U.S. demands that the council consider sanctions.

The EU, led by France, Britain and Germany, started talks with Iran in 2003 in the hope of convincing it to scrap uranium enrichment, which can produce fuel for power plants or weapons, in exchange for economic and political incentives.

The talks collapsed in August after Iran ended a suspension of enrichment-related work. A last-gasp meeting between the two sides a week ago failed to produce a breakthrough.

Diplomats say EU foreign ministers have so far not discussed imposing sanctions on Iran, the world's fourth biggest oil exporter. It was not certain they would do so in Salzburg.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said there was still room for a negotiated solution based on a Russian proposal for Iran to enrich uranium on Russian soil.

Iran, which concealed its nuclear work from the IAEA for 18 years, insists on continuing some enrichment at home.

Ferrero-Waldner said the EU should not be impressed by Iran's threats to cause "harm and pain" to the West.

Asked whether the EU should consider sanctions, she said: "We have to think very carefully in order to maintain the consensus of groups and in particular of the permanent five."

Khatami said Iran would respond to pressure from the Security Council in the same way it had dealt with the IAEA.

"I say to the Security Council: 'do not use threatening language while talking to a great nation like Iran," he said, drawing chants of "God is greatest" from worshippers,.

(Additional reporting by Paul Taylor in Salzburg, Francois Murphy in Vienna, Jon Boyle in Paris and Louis Charbonneau in Berlin)

2006 Reuters

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