Iran would not give up construction of a heavy-water reactor, which can be used to make nuclear weapons material, in exchange for a light-water reactor offered by the Europeans, foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said.

"We welcome such proposals but we will not under any circumstances replace our heavy-water research reactor," Asefi told a news conference.

"We will continue working on our heavy-water reactor," under construction at Arak southwest of Tehran, he said.

Fischer warning

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warned Iran it would be referred to the UN Security Council if it resumed nuclear enrichment.

Fischer warned Iran it could be
referred to the Security Council

"If Iran behaves in an unreasonable way, if for example it restarts enrichment ... then that would lead to the Security Council," Fischer told an international security conference in Germany.

Asefi was unimpressed.

"We have told the Europeans to tell their American allies not to play with fire and the Europeans received that message perfectly well," he said.

Conservatives' power

The conservative-controlled parliament has muddied the waters, drawing up draft legislation requiring Iran to produce some of its own nuclear fuel.

Key decisions on Iran's nuclear programme are taken at the highest levels of the government, but MPs have approved legislation to make a symbolic point.

"We have told the Europeans to tell their American allies not to play with fire"

Iran foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi

Last October, they passed a bill advocating continued uranium enrichment.

Britain, France and Germany are trying to convince Iran it should dismantle an enrichment programme, which the United States says is part of a covert plan to develop atomic weapons, in return for economic and political rewards.

Diplomats said EU negotiators have offered to send a mission to help Tehran obtain a light-water research reactor in what would be the first concrete move towards rewarding it for abandoning uranium enrichment.

War of words

But Tehran's stance on the Arak reactor is likely to complicate the European task amid an escalating war of words between Iran and the US over the clerical government's nuclear activities.

Iran says its nuclear programme is purely for civilian energy needs, but the US - less than two years after its invasion of Iraq in March 2003 - has hinted at the possible use of military force to stop the Persian nation's nuclear activities. 

The Washington Post says the US
has been flying drones in Iran

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said an attack is not on the agenda for the time being but has urged Europe to take a tough line with Tehran.

"We don't take Rice's threats seriously," Asefi declared.

"Rice and US officials know well Iran's capabilities [of responding]," he added.

US drones

The Washington Post reported on Sunday that the US has been flying drones over Iran since April 2004, seeking evidence of nuclear weapons programmes and probing for weaknesses in Iran's air defences.

The revelation came after the US National Intelligence Council
launched a broad review of its classified data on Iran to assess its alleged weapons drive, and its impact on regional and global security.

Tehran says its talks with the EU3 which began in mid-December, must have concrete results within three months if they are to continue.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Hasan Rowhani, has acknowledged that if Tehran is referred to the UN Security Council, it may not avoid sanctions.

"It is unlikely one of the permanent members would use their veto in favour of Iran," he said. Britain, China, France, Russia and the US are the council's five permanent members.

Iran agreed last November to suspend uranium enrichment but as a member of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it has the right to enrich for peaceful purposes.