VIENNA,(Reuters) – Iran could stop enriching uranium at best only as a result of negotiations with big powers, but not as a precondition for such talks as they demand, a senior Iranian official said on Thursday.
It appeared to be the first time Tehran had hinted at the possibility of suspending nuclear fuel enrichment the West sees as an atomic bomb risk. But the insistence that this could only happen after negotiations was likely to be rejected by the major powers.
Iran would never renounce its “legitimate right” to civilian atomic energy under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, said Javad Vaeedi, deputy head of Tehran’s national security council and of its nuclear negotiating team.
Vaeedi also said Iran was taking its time to reply to an offer of economic incentives to halt nuclear work — prompting U.S. accusations of stalling — in order “to maximise the chances of success of this proposal”.
“Iran considers a suspension of uranium enrichment not as a precondition for talks, rather in the best case as a result of talks,” he said in a speech to a rightist political foundation in Vienna, headquarters of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.
“Negotiations without preconditions are the only way to a peaceful resolution of this crisis,” he said. Vaeedi spoke in Farsi and his remarks were translated into English and German.
Iran says it wants to enrich uranium only to the low level needed to generate electricity.
Western powers suspect Iran seeks highly enriched uranium for nuclear warheads and asks why it needs atomic energy when it boasts the world’s second largest oil and gas reserves.
Asked after his speech why Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had set an Aug. 22 deadline for replying to the offer, more than a month beyond that set by the six powers, Vaeedi said Iran could not be rushed on such a complex matter.
“The EU countries know that this offer must be considered by different elements in Iran with different points of view. This careful study means we are maximising the chances of success of this proposal,” he said during a question-and-answer session.
U.S. President George W. Bush voiced scepticism at Tehran’s target date, saying during a Vienna visit on Wednesday that it “should not take the Iranians that long to analyse what is a reasonable deal. I said weeks, not months”.
Tehran has said the package contains positive points but also problematic “ambiguities” related to the demand for an enrichment halt. It has hinted at a counter-proposal in the offing but Vaeedi declined to answer questions about specifics. He said preconditions would get the big powers nowhere.
“Negotiations cannot be based on ‘take it or leave it’ approaches. Ultimatums have no place in talks,” said Vaeedi.
“We are interested in finding a solution suitable to both sides, and that means dispensing with threats,” he said.
Vaeedi was alluding to warnings by the United States, Britain, France and Germany of a resort to sanctions should Tehran spurn the packet of trade and technology sweeteners.
Non-Western powers Russia and China oppose sanctions options and their stance has figured in Iran’s defiance of the West.
Vaeedi cast big power efforts to curtail its nuclear programme as a U.S.-engineered bid to stunt the economic development of an arch-foe and dominate the Middle East.
“We cannot confine ourselves to limited resources of oil and carbon fuel. Like the U.S. and Europe, Iran is entitled to peaceful nuclear energy. Those who say we are better off not having it seek to humiliate us and we will not be humiliated.” He said Iran could have no logical reasons for seeking a nuclear arsenal because this would jeopardise its own security.
“If we were stupid enough to do so, the U.S. would put all countries around us under its military umbrella, with nuclear weapons on the border of Iran,” Vaeedi said. “Also, if we went after nuclear weapons, every country in the region would go after them, which would not be in our interest as a regional power.”