Iran uncompromising on eve of crucial nuke talks

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran has spelled out clearly it will not back away from its bid to conduct sensitive nuclear fuel work, limiting the chance for a compromise at a key meeting on Wednesday with Britain, France and Germany.
For Iran, conducting fuel cycle work and enriching uranium to make reactor fuel is a “right” afforded to all signatories of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“Be certain that we will not back away one iota from our legitimate nuclear rights,” Iran’s hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last week.

But the so-called EU-3, backed by the United States, argues that the Islamic republic cannot be trusted to carry out enrichment — a process that can be extended to make the explosive core of a nuclear bomb.

Wednesday’s talks in Vienna are aimed at seeing if any common ground exists and whether long-term negotiations on finding guarantees Iran will not acquire a nuclear weapon can restart.

The negotiations broke down in August, and a total deadlock in Wednesday’s meeting would likely spark a push by the Europeans and the United States for the issue to be sent to the UN Security Council — which could in turn impose sanctions. Iran has already vowed to retaliate to such a step by resuming uranium enrichment — suspended since October 2003 — and limiting International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of its nuclear facilities.

“The world has understood that the national will of Iran to enrich is serious,” Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said on Monday, adding that the Vienna talks will simply have to focus on Iran enriching and on ways to ensure that “Iran’s enrichment is not diverted”.

“We will make other proposals. The Iranian delegation will welcome all proposals, on the condition that they recognise the rights of Iran,” said Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, a vice president and head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation.

He did not say what Iran could put on the table, but pointed to Ahmadinejad’s standing offer for foreign firms to be involved in enrichment on Iranian soil as a form of supervision.

“The proposal for participation presented by Tehran is the best solution to guarantee there is no deviation from a peaceful programme,” Hossein Entezami, a spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told the student news agency ISNA.

He also said Iran wanted to bring an end to the enrichment suspension as soon as possible. It was the resumption of uranium conversion — a precursor to enrichment — in August that prompted the current crisis.

“Taking into account the resumption of the uranium conversion facility at Isfahan, the manner in which to lift the voluntary suspension at enrichment installations is on Iran’s agenda,” Entezami said.

The Europeans, however, have other ideas.

They want to push a proposal from Moscow whereby Iran could conduct much of the fuel cycle at home but only enrich its uranium on Russian soil — meaning the most sensitive nuclear work is out of the country.

Iran has already rejected this proposal, and has also poured cold water on a “Libya-style” deal offered by the EU-3 — whereby Iran would voluntarily limit its nuclear activities in exchange for trade and other incentives.

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