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Iran rebuffs US over nuclear plans

The US offer was the first major diplomatic shift toward the Islamic republic since Bush cast it as part of the 'axis of evil.'

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Iran's rejection of new US incentives to urge the Islamic republic to halt its nuclear ambitions could not have been on more prominent display.

Painted across a banner 20 feet wide and nearly 10 feet tall, hanging directly under the pulpit during Friday prayers at Tehran University - and shown live on national television - were the words of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "We will definitely not stop our nuclear activities," the banner proclaimed. "It is our red line."

The US offer - to drop objections to Iran's entry into the World Trade Organization and permit it to purchase spare aircraft parts if it freezes its nuclear program - marks the first significant policy change toward Iran since President Bush labeled it part of an "axis of evil" in January 2002. But Iran dismisses the offer as "insignificant" and says the price will be much higher to get it to give up nuclear

technology that it legally has a right to pursue under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

"That offer ... is an assault on Iranian pride," says Amir Mohebian, political editor of the conservative newspaper, Resalat. "Some US politicians say: 'If we don't attack you, it's a favor.'"

Instead, Mr. Mohebian says there is room for real dialogue, but at a higher level: "The US should send the message: 'We are not your enemy.' "

Washington says Iran's civilian program is a cover to build nuclear weapons, and has ratcheted up its rhetoric in recent months. Tehran denies the charge and says it does not want nuclear weapons, but is creating its own nuclear fuel cycle for atomic energy. Two years of inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog have found a string of violations in a program kept secret for 18 years, but no evidence that Iran has sought to make atomic bombs. Britain, France, and Germany have been in negotiations to get Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions. The US offer aims to join the Europeans in a united front; in exchange, the EU has agree to support taking Iran before the UN Security Council if talks fail.

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