West in last-ditch efforts to convince Iran to stop uranium enrichment before sanctions are approved

Kouchner rejects counter-proposal on enrichment, China urges diplomacy on Iran issue

Tehran university professors want revolution leader punish officials responsible for crackdown on students

France holds Iran regime responsible for any harm to opposition leaders

U.S. says supports Pakistan’s government in confronting terrorism

The White House said Monday that the door of negotiation over Iran's nuclear program "is of course still open" before the international community decides on the "next steps."

"The door is of course still open for Iran to do the right thing and live up to its international obligations," White House spokesman Bill Burton told reporters, adding that the United States will be "going through the appropriate process to try to get them to the table and do exactly what they're supposed to do."

According to the spokesman, U.S. President Barack Obama would convene his national security team this week to determine "what the next steps are."

Earlier on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States has been discussing with other major powers on sanctions against Iran, and that the aim of the sanctions is to pressure the Iranian government and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Clinton's remark came after Tehran rejected a Dec. 31 deadline set by the United States for Iran to accept a deal for swapping its low-enriched uranium for nuclear fuel outside Iran and demanded a simultaneous exchange inside the country.

Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki has said that the international community has "only one more month" to decide whether it wants to sell nuclear fuel to Iran or swap nuclear fuel for Iran's low-enriched uranium.

"Otherwise, Tehran will enrich uranium to a higher purity needed for the fuel," said Mottaki, adding that "This is an ultimatum."

Under a draft deal brokered by the UN nuclear watchdog, most of Iran's existing low-grade enriched uranium would be shipped to Russia and France by the end of the year, where it would be processed into fuel rods with the purity of 20 percent.

The higher-level enriched uranium would be transported back to Iran to be used in a research reactor in Tehran for the manufacture of medical radioisotopes.

The United States and its Western allies have been accusing Iran of secretly developing nuclear weapons under the disguise of civilian nuclear power. Iran has denied the accusation and stressed its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

The United States has threatened another round of UN sanctions against Iran if it does not abide by the year-end deadline.

Meanwhile, France rejects Iran's latest move to set a new deadline to end the standoff over its contested nuclear program, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Monday.

"We are not the ones who have to decide whether to accept what they want to impose on us," Kouchner told RTL radio. "No, this is not the way it is done."

Iran said at the weekend that it had until the end of January to reach agreement on a deal to swap uranium for nuclear fuel after rejecting a December 31 deadline set by world powers.

Kouchner said Iran was trying to "side-step" the issue by "giving an ultimatum to those who have offered to help them, that is the international community including France."

Turning to opposition protests challenging the Iranian regime, Kouchner said the establishment was "under threat by very determined people, some of them very religious, and by the Shiite leadership.

"There is enormous repression. We must condemn those that cause unarmed protesters to be exposed to bullets, arrests and very severe convictions including death sentences," he added.

Scores of opposition activists, protesters and journalists have been arrested since clashes during the latest major demonstration on December 27 that left at least eight killed.

China on Tuesday reiterated its calls for diplomatic efforts on the Iran nuclear issue as the United States seeks sanctions against Iran.

"Dialogue and negotiations are the right ways of properly solving the Iran nuclear issue, and there is still room for diplomatic efforts," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu at a regular news briefing.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday the United States had been discussing with other major powers sanctions against Iran after Tehran rejected a year-end deadline set by the United States to accept a deal in which it would swap its low-enriched uranium for nuclear fuel outside Iran, and demanded simultaneous exchange inside the country.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the international community had "only one more month" to decide whether to sell nuclear fuel to Iran or swap nuclear fuel for Iran's low-enriched uranium.

"Otherwise, Tehran will enrich uranium to a higher purity needed for the fuel," said Mottaki.

"This is an ultimatum," he said.

China has insisted that the Iran nuclear issue be properly solved through diplomatic negotiations rather than sanctions.

"We hope the relevant parties take more flexible and pragmatic measures and step up diplomatic efforts in a bid to resume talks as soon as possible," said Jiang.

Under a draft deal brokered by the UN, most of Iran's existing low-grade enriched uranium would be shipped to Russia and France by the end of the year, where it would be processed into fuel rods with a purity of 20 percent.

The higher-level enriched uranium would be transported back to Iran to be used in a research reactor in Tehran for the manufacture of medical radioisotopes.

The United States and its Western allies have accused Iran of secretly developing nuclear weapons under the disguise of a civilian nuclear power. Iran has denied the accusation and stressed its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes.

The United States has threatened another round of UN sanctions against Iran if it does not abide by the year-end deadline.

In Tehran, dozens of Tehran University professors appealed Monday to Iran's supreme leader to halt the ongoing violence against protesters, adding a new and respected voice in support of the opposition.

The government, meanwhile, stepped up its accusations that the West is fomenting Tehran's post-election turmoil, saying that foreign nationals were among those arrested in the most recent clashes between security forces and pro-opposition protesters.

Officials didn't provide the nationalities of the arrested but accused the foreigners of leading a propaganda war and warned they face possible death sentences for seeking to topple the government.

The letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — signed by 88 professors and reported by a pro-reform Web site — reflected a daring challenge to the Iran's clerical leadership since it is sure to further arouse the anger of authorities.

Tehran University is the country's largest, with 1,480 professors and teachers, according to its Web site. By speaking openly in support of the protesters, the professors are putting their careers on the line.

Iranian students were the driving force of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and they led anti-government protests last month that revitalized the opposition movement, even as opposition leaders struggle to dent the power of the ruling establishment.

The letter, posted on the pro-reform Greenroad Web site, called the attacks a sign of weakness in the ruling system and demanded punishment for those who beat up students. It also urged Khamenei to order arrests over the hard-line crackdown, which intensified after protesters began chanting slogans against the supreme leader.

At least eight people died in clashes between security forces and opposition supporters across Iran late last month, including a nephew of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi. It was the worst bloodshed since the height of the unrest immediately after disputed June presidential election.

"Nighttime attacks on defenseless student dormitories and daytime assaults on students at university campuses, venues of education and learning, is not a sign of strength. ... Nor is beating up students and their mass imprisonment," the letter read.

It referred to attacks by pro-government paramilitary Basij forces on pro-opposition students inside Tehran University campus last month. The attacks were launched after students took to the streets on Dec. 7 on more than a dozen campuses in the biggest anti-government protests in months.

The professors said none of the attackers, who chanted slogans in support of Khamenei while beating students, have been punished. They demanded Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters, also order that all students arrested in the protests be released.

"Unfortunately, all these (attacks) were carried out under the pretext of protecting Islam" and the position of the supreme leader, the professors also said.

A fierce government crackdown had all but crushed mass street protests that erupted immediately after June's presidential elections, which the opposition says President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won by fraud. But the protests regained momentum in December and large turnouts at rallies showed months of arrests and intimidation have failed to stamp out the movement.

Intelligence minister Heidar Moslehi said some of those arrested in protests Dec. 27, when Shiite Muslims in Iran marked the sacred day of Ashoura, were foreign citizens who had come to Iran just two days before the day of the protests.

"Some of the detainees ... were foreign nationals who were leading a propaganda and a psychological war," said Moslehi, according to state TV. He said cameras and equipment belonging to the foreigners was also confiscated.

Iran has been conducting mass trials of opposition figures and activists arrested in the post-election protests. Five defendants have been sentenced to death and 81 received prison terms ranging from six months up to 15 years.

Authorities said more than 500 demonstrators were arrested after the Ashoura protests and that they would be put on trial.

General prosecutor Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehi said Monday those trials would be speedy and that some of the detainees could also face the death penalty over rioting against the ruling establishment.

In Islamabad, a provincial minister from Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province (NWFP) said that the new year of 2010 would prove to be positive in the war on terrorism and the terrorism would come to an end this year.

Talking to a private TV channel on Monday, NWFP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar said that the Pakistani government will continue the operations against terrorists till the last terrorist is eliminated in the country.

Pakistan is fighting the war against terrorism and the NWFP bordering Afghanistan to the northwest is the worst affected part leading the frontline in the militancy last year.

The information minister said that 2009 was a year of terrorism and year of grief on one hand but on the other hand, the government launched successful military operations against the militants.

The government initiated the dialogue with Pakistani Taliban and made agreements with them despite strong opposition by the foreign states, including the United States, he said.

But the Taliban did not follow the agreement and finally the government decided to take military action against them, he said.

The provincial minister said the terrorists' backbone was broken and they were defeated in the military operations, as they have been defeated in Swat and Malakand and driven out from their base in South Waziristan.

The government holds its writ in those areas which were earlier controlled by the terrorists, he clarified.

"We recognize that the government must take more steps in war on terrorism to provide relief to the people and this war is based on the ideological patterns," he said.

The terrorists want the nation to follow their self-made rules and regulations and want to impose their own ideology on the nation, the minister said. He vowed that the government would take every possible step to defeat them.