TEHRAN: Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani said on Sunday world powers must accept the Islamic republic as a nuclear power as top officials vowed no let-up in Tehran’s sensitive uranium enrichment drive.

Larijani’s comments came after the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany offered to hold direct talks with Iran over its nuclear programme.

“Now the 5+1 has no reason to deny or refuse Iran’s nuclear technology and the expected negotiations will be based according to the rights mentioned in the Non-Proliferation Treaty,” Larijani said in a speech to parliament reported by the ISNA news agency.

The international community has called on Iran to halt its uranium enrichment programme which some countries suspect is aimed at making atomic weapons, a charge strongly denied by Tehran.

Their call was reiterated again by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner in an interview with Iranian daily Etemad.

Iran announced on Thursday the opening of its first nuclear fuel plant and said it has tested two new high-capacity centrifuges used to enrich uranium, although Washington has voiced scepticism over the claimed nuclear advances.

Tehran maintains it is allowing the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to inspect its nuclear work and that as a signatory to the NPT, it has the right to enrich uranium as fuel for nuclear power plants.

Larijani, Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator, said that the “more intense supervision as advocated by some of the members of 5+1 is baseless and has no legal foundation.”

Larijani’s remarks were echoed by Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of the Iranian Atomic Organisation.

“The world has to accept Iran as a nation with nuclear power for peaceful purposes,” Saeedi was quoted as saying on the website of state-run television.

“Some nations are accepting this fact and the talk of suspending (the enrichment programme) is a thing of the past and no longer relevant.”

Enriching uranium so that it can be used for nuclear power — or building a weapon of mass destruction — lies at the heart of the controversy surrounding Iran’s nuclear programme.

Alaeddin Brujerdi, lawmaker and the head of Iranian parliament’s commission on foreign policy and national security, urged continuation of uranium enrichment activities.

“Iran will not accept suspension of enrichment, but we are for disarmament in the region,” Brujerdi was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying.

“From now on, instead of saying 5+1, we should say the group of seven, as given Iran’s progress in nuclear technology, we believe Iran has the same status as others involved in the negotiations.”

He called for study of two sets of proposals relating to the controversial uranium activities — one put forward by world powers to Iran and the other drawn up by Tehran.

Global powers have proposed giving economic incentives to Iran to help in its civilian nuclear programme, in return for it halting its enrichment activities.

For its part, Iran launched a package which it described as an all-embracing attempt to solve the problems of the world, including the nuclear crisis. It suggests setting up consortiums to enrich uranium, including one in Iran.

Neither offer has been discussed at a global level.

Kouchner said: “There is always hope that Iran will agree (to halt enrichment).

“I believe it is very important (for Iran) to answer some of the agency’s (IAEA’s) technical and certain other questions, and also to suspend the current programme which does not seem to have a non-military purpose,” he was quoted as saying by the moderate Etemad newspaper.

Kouchner said the so-called 5+1 still favours negotiations with Tehran.