TEHRAN - More than 100 non-aligned nations on Wednesday [July 30, 2008] backed Iran's right to peaceful uses of nuclear power - an endorsement that is key to Tehran in its standoff with the United Nations Security Council over its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment.
Support was expressed in a three-page declaration that drew heavily in phrasing on similar past Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) declarations.
Senior Iranian officials have welcomed the support from a high-level conference of the 120-nation NAM. [Note: That number may be erroneous. NAM may now have 119 countries, plus 16 more nations with observer status]
Iran's Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki said on Wednesday that the conference's backing contradicted claims from some countries that the international community was opposed to Iran's nuclear program.
Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran's top representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said the endorsement from the 115 countries present at the Tehran conference sent a strong signal that negotiation was the only way forward over the nuclear stand-off.
Tehran insists it has a right to the technology to make reactor fuel.
But because of fears that it wants to master enrichment for its other use - creating the fissile core of warheads - the Security Council has slapped three sets of sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Only days remain until the expiration of an informal two-week deadline set July 19 by six world powers for Tehran to show it is willing to stop expanding its enrichment program, at least temporarily, in exchange for their commitment to stop seeking a fourth set of UN sanctions.
The offer was meant to create space for the start of in-depth negotiations that the six hope will end in Iran agreeing to permanently suspend its enrichment program in exchange for a package of economic and political concessions.
But there was no sign on Wednesday that Tehran was willing to bend.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, said that backing down on enrichment would only benefit those six nations - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.
Both Mottaki and Soltanieh rejected the idea of a two-week deadline.
"The literature about assigning a date or deadline is not understandable to us," Mottaki told reporters after the close of a NAM conference, most of them represented at foreign minister or deputy foreign minister level.
"There have been, of course, discussions in Geneva, during the talks they have been discussing how to go forward and therefore, this sort of statement is not only unjustified, it could of course damage the constructive environment that has been created during the discussion and talks," said Soltanieh.
Earlier in the week, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told US media that Iran's response to the package of incentives offered by the six world powers was to submit its own package of proposals, with the aim of negotiating to find common ground.
The contents of Iran's proposals have not been made public.
"It is better to pave the way to starting real constructive negotiations for peaceful settlement of all issues which are reflected in Iranian package and also the common denominators and common points of both packages," said Soltanieh.
Iran regularly counts on NAM countries to blunt pressure from the US and its allies for harsh UN sanctions and other penalties because of its refusal to freeze uranium enrichment in various forums, such as the 35-nation board meetings of the IAEA and non-proliferation conferences.