TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran will never abandon its “legal and obvious” right to nuclear technology and will not halt uranium enrichment, its foreign minister said, despite talks the West hopes will lead to restraints on the disputed program.
“The meetings with world powers and their behavior shows that Iran’s right to have peaceful nuclear technology has been accepted by them … Iran will never abandon its legal and obvious right,” Manouchehr Mottaki said on Tuesday.
Talks between Iran and three world powers on a uranium supply deal to allay concerns about Tehran’s enrichment drive began on Monday in Vienna but their scheduled resumption at 0800 GMT on Tuesday was put off for two hours.
It was not clear whether the delay was related to Mottaki’s remarks, in which he also said Iran did not need France to be part of the tentative deal, whose politically sensitive details remain to be ironed out.
French, U.S. and Russian delegations were conferring behind closed doors outside the meeting hall. “The break is for more consultations,” a Western official said, without elaborating.
The meeting, hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), offered the first chance to build on proposals raised at Geneva talks on October 1 to defuse a standoff over suspicions that Iran’s uranium enrichment program is covertly intended to develop nuclear weapons.
Mottaki praised the talks, which Western diplomats said were based on an Iranian agreement in principle to sending low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for processing into fuel for a Tehran reactor producing medical isotopes.
“We see serious development in the talks … the continuation of talks can lead to a deal over supplying Iran with the 20 percent enriched uranium,” Mottaki told a news conference in Tehran.
“What we want is our right based on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It says the member countries should be supplied with nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes by those members that have the fuel.”
The West hopes the step of farming out a large amount of Iran’s low-enriched uranium (LEU) reserve for conversion as fuel for the medical isotope reactor will minimize the risk of Iran refining the material to high purity suitable for bombs.
Western diplomats say Tehran must ultimately curb the program to dispel fears of a growing LEU stockpile being further enriched, covertly, to produce nuclear weapons.
TALKS WON’T AFFECT ENRICHMENT, SAYS MOTTAKI
But Mottaki said Iran would not give up enrichment, as demanded by the U.N. Security Council. “Iran will continue its uranium enrichment. It is not linked to buying fuel from abroad,” he said.
LEU is used as fuel for nuclear reactors, while a nuclear bomb requires highly enriched uranium. The West fears Iran’s declared civilian nuclear energy program is a front to produce fissile material for atomic bombs. Iran denies this.
State-run Iranian television said on Monday Tehran would not deal directly with France since it had failed to deliver nuclear materials in the past. Mottaki said Iran did not need France for the fuel supply.
“There are Russia, America … I believe these countries are enough. Not too many countries are needed to provide Iran with the fuel,” Mottaki said on Tuesday.
“France, based on its shortcomings to fulfill its obligations in the past, is not a trustworthy party to provide fuel for Iran … in the text of the proposal that will be issued by (IAEA chief Mohamed) ElBaradei today, there will be no reference to France.”
IAEA officials said they did not know about such a move.
Iran has been hit by three rounds of U.N. sanctions for refusing to halt enrichment-related work. It said on Monday it would not hesitate to produce higher enriched uranium on its territory if nuclear talks failed in Vienna.
Iran won a reprieve from harsher U.N. sanctions by agreeing on October 1 to inspections of a hidden nuclear site and to send low-enriched uranium abroad for further processing.