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Iran Renews Promise to Refrain from Developing Nuclear Weapons

Iran has renewed its promise to refrain from developing nuclear weapons, and talks on its atomic program will continue. British Foreign Minister Jack Straw made that announcement, following a three-hour meeting between Iranian nuclear officials and European Union ministers in Geneva. The E.U. has stepped up pressure on Tehran to abandon its nuclear efforts.

Mr. Straw said Iran's freeze of its uranium enrichment program would continue until agreement is reached on the future of its nuclear program.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rohani, said Iranian negotiators will consult with Tehran first, but expressed confidence that an agreement could be reached within "a reasonably short time."

Negotiators from Britain, France, and Germany have offered Iran economic incentives if Tehran permanently abandons uranium enrichment. Last November, Iran agreed to temporarily suspend that program.

The U.S. has called for Iran to be brought before the United Nations Security Council, to face possible sanctions, because it suspects Tehran is attempting to build nuclear weapons, in violation of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Iran has vehemently denied that claim, saying its nuclear program is solely for generating electricity.

But Washington and the E.U.'s concerns were raised again earlier this month, when Tehran announced it was considering restarting its uranium-enrichment program. Highly-enriched uranium can be used to fuel nuclear weapons. The E.U. warned Iran it could move toward the U.S. position favoring sanctions.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said, "America is now putting the Europeans under pressure but we hope that Europe, as an independent power and despite all U.S. pressures, could adopt a decision which guarantees security and peace both for the region and the world and not to the benefit of America."

So far, President Bush has shown support for the European efforts to entice Iran into an agreement.

But Wednesday, White House spokesman Scott McClellan expressed skepticism about Iran's promises.

"If you'll recall, Iran was hiding its nuclear activities from the international community for some two decades, and that's why we were suspicious about their activities and that's why we were skeptical about their activities. And that's why it's so important to have an objective guarantee in place to provide confidence to the international community that they are not developing a nuclear weapon," says Mr. McClellan.

Meanwhile in Tehran, 200 Iranian students demonstrated in front of Western embassies, burning U.S. and Israeli flags, and accusing the West of meddling in Iran's internal affairs.