Iran offers US share in nuke power plants

TEHRAN (AP) — Iran opened the door Sunday for US help in building a nuclear power plant — a move designed to ease American suspicions that Tehran is using its nuclear programme as a cover to build atomic weapons.
The offer, which did not seem likely to win acceptance in Washington, was issued as Israel said it had not ruled out a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.

“America can take part in international bidding for the construction of Iran’s nuclear power plant if they observe the basic standards and quality,” foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said in a news conference.

Asefi was apparently talking about a 360-megawatt light water nuclear power plant that the head of the country’s atomic organisation said on Saturday would be constructed in southwestern Iran.

Iran also wants to produce 2,000 megawatts of electricity by building nuclear power plants with foreign help in southern Iran.

While it was unclear how the Americans would react to the Iranian proposal, relations between Tehran and Washington, which were severed after Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, have seldom been worse. The United States has imposed unilateral sanctions on Iran, preventing US companies from doing business in Iran.

The United States also has ratcheted up pressure against Iran, accusing it of pursuing a nuclear weapons programme and supporting anti-Israeli groups. Iran says its nuclear programme is designed only to generate electricity.

The Iranian offer comes at a time when Iran is facing a barrage of criticism over President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent remarks, first that Israel should be wiped off the map and later that Israel should be moved to Europe.

On Sunday, Israel denied a British report that it has plans to attack Iran in March, but officials said they would not rule out a military strike if Iran makes advances in building nuclear weapons.

Amos Gilad, a senior defence ministry official, said attention was now focused on an international solution over the Iranian programme but added, “it isn’t correct to say that a country that is threatened should deny that it will ever consider a different option.” Israel Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said that Israeli would never accept a nuclear-armed Iran.

“Israel can’t live in a situation in which Iran has the atomic bomb,” he said.

Iranian political analyst Saeed Leilaz said Tehran’s offer was genuine in part but also politically motivated. “Iran made the offer seriously to show the United States that it won’t produce a bomb and ease its concern,” Leilaz said. “And partly, Iran made the offer because it’s almost sure the United States won’t accept it.” Iran flexed its military muscle Sunday by commissioning a new submarine at the end of three-day military manoeuvres in southern Iran. The submarine, named Ghadir, was Iran’s second domestically made submarine and can fire missiles and torpedoes simultaneously, state-run radio reported.

Iran has been involved in stalled talks with European negotiators over its contentious nuclear programme aimed at making Tehran permanently freeze nuclear enrichment.

Enrichment can produce material for use in warheads or fuel for nuclear plants to generate electricity.

The United States backs the Iran-Europe talks, which broke off in August but will resume December 21 in Vienna, Austria. Tehran has since restarted uranium conversion, a precursor to enrichment. “The [Vienna] meeting will be a serious one,” Asefi said. “Everything is dependent on the meeting and the talks. Everything will be decided there. We will make a decision based on its results in the future.” Asefi refused to speculate on the result of the talks, saying only that “if Europe works based on the nonproliferation treaty, safeguards and international measures, then there will be no room for concern.” He said again that the agenda would focus on Iran’s right to enrich uranium and that the talks would be held on a senior level. Germany, France and Britain have suggested shifting Iran’s enrichment activities to Russia, where nuclear material would be enriched only to fuel levels and not to weapons grade.

But Iran said it would enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel domestically despite international efforts to curb its atomic programme.

On Friday Mohammed Al Baradei, head of the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency, said the international community was losing patience with Iran over its nuclear programme.

“Baradei should not politicise issues,” Asefi said.

“He knows Iran has not diverted in its nuclear programme. Some of words that he said were not correct at all. It would be better for him not to have many interviews.” Iran is standing its ground amid international pressure to cut back on its nuclear activities, particularly uranium enrichment, which can produce material for use in warheads or fuel for nuclear plants to generate electricity.

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