TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iranian leaders rejected a European proposal designed to calm Western fears their nuclear program could be used to develop weapons, saying Saturday the offer failed to recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful uses.

Germany accused Iran of being “confrontational.” It and France predicted that unless Iran backed down, the matter would go to the U.N. Security Council for consideration of sanctions. The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency is meeting Tuesday to discuss that possibility.

“The European proposals are unacceptable,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told Iranian state radio.

He said the primary reason was the failure to allow Iran to produce enriched uranium, which is a fuel for atomic reactors that generate electricity but also can be used to make nuclear bombs.

“We had already announced that any plan has to recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium,” Asefi said.

Iran repeatedly has said its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes, and it denies U.S. allegations the operation is a cover for making atomic bombs in violation of Iran’s commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

However, the discovery that Iran had kept aspects of its atomic program secret for many years raised concerns in Washington, Israel and Europe, and pressures have mounted for Iran to make concessions.

During his inauguration speech Saturday, Iran’s new hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, did not mention the nuclear dispute directly but said his government would not bow to foreign pressure.

“I don’t know why some countries do not want to understand the fact that the Iranian people do not tolerate force,” Ahmadinejad said.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said Iran was taking a “confrontational course” and warned that the rejection would put Iran’s nuclear program before the Security Council.

In remarks released by broadcaster ARD, Schroeder said it was up to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, to decide the next step.

“One has to expect that it (the IAEA) will put it before the Security Council, if Iran doesn’t come round,” Schroeder said in an interview broadcast Today.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy urged the Iranian government to reconsider.

“I plead for the leaders to take the time to examine the proposals with care,” he said.

In comments to Journal du Dimanche, released ahead of publication Today, Douste-Blazy said that if Iran maintained its rejection, the case would certainly go to the Security Council.

The United States has long lobbied for the IAEA to refer Iran to the council. U.N. sanctions would be a blow to Iran’s struggling economy, and it was the possibility of sanctions that led Iran to suspend its work with uranium last fall.

The IAEA board scheduled a Tuesday meeting to discuss nuclear safeguards in Iran following recent statements from Iranian officials that they could soon resume converting raw uranium into a gas that is the feedstock for the enrichment process.

Asefi said the IAEA meeting “lacks any legal justification” and is a case of “psychological war.”

Acting on behalf of the 25-nation European Union, Britain, France and Germany delivered the nuclear proposal Friday. The aim was to get Iran to commit not to build atomic arms by offering to provide fuel and other long-term support to help it generate electricity from nuclear reactors.

The Europeans also offered economic, political and security cooperation if Iran accepted the plan.

In return, the Europeans said, Iran would have to make a “legally binding commitment not to withdraw” from the nuclear treaty, as North Korea did before it resumed nuclear weapons work. Iran also would have to agree to permit surprise inspections by the IAEA and abandon all uranium activities, including conversion, enrichment and reprocessing.

Iran insists it has a right to enrich uranium as a signatory to the nuclear treaty.

“The package is against the spirit of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and against the provisions of the Paris agreement,” Asefi said, referring to a deal signed with the EU in November under which Iran agreed to maintain its suspension of uranium enrichment and related activities until negotiations finished.

Iran has accused the Europeans of wasting time and has repeatedly threatened to resume enrichment activities.

An Iranian political analyst, Ali Ansari, said Saturday the chances of settling the dispute seemed remote.

“At this moment in time, the chances of any agreement are extremely small,” said Ansari, a lecturer on Iranian history at St. Andrews University in Scotland.


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