ISFAHAN, Iran (AFP) – President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was set to trumpet Iran’s nuclear ambitions on Thursday as his top advisor said Tehran would study a “constructive” offer for nuclear talks from six world powers.
A day after insisting Tehran has no plans to build an atom bomb, Ahmadinejad was expected to announce the testing of a new generation of centrifuges at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility as well as the inauguration of a fuel manufacturing plant, to mark national nuclear day.
The projects, both sited in central Isfahan province, are likely to trigger fresh concerns among the international community which has repeatedly urged Iran to abandon its uranium enrichment programme completely.
In a bid to defuse tensions, six world powers led by Washington on Wednesday invited Iran for direct talks on the programme which they suspect is aimed at making atomic weapons but which Tehran insists is civilian and purely peaceful.
Ali Akbar Javanfekr, a top advisor to Ahmadinejad, responded on Thursday by saying that Tehran will study the “constructive proposal.”
Uranium enrichment is at the heart of global fears that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons because the process can be used both to make nuclear fuel and the fissile core of an atom bomb.
The fuel manufacturing plant in Isfahan is expected to come onstream later this month, the ISNA student news agency reported.
“The … plant will have the ability to produce the fuel for the 40-megawatt reactor in Arak,” the heavy water nuclear plant in Markezi province, Abdollah Solatsana, deputy head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation, told ISNA.
He said that by changing the “production specifications,” the plant can also produce fuel for the light water Bushehr nuclear plant being built by Moscow.
World powers fear that Iran could configure the Arak plant in a way that it can be used to help make an atom bomb, but Tehran says the reactor is planned to make isotopes only for agricultural and health purposes.
In a February 19 report UN watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was unable to clarify whether the Arak facility was intended solely for peaceful purposes as claimed by Tehran.
Iran has defied five UN Security Council resolutions calling for a freeze in its enrichment activities, including three resolutions imposing sanctions.
In a joint statement on Wednesday, the United States, Britain, Russia, China, France, and Germany said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has been tasked to invite Iran for direct talks on its nuclear plans.
“We reaffirm our unity of purpose and collective determination through direct diplomacy to resolve our shared concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme, in line with the package proposals for cooperation with Iran,” they said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington will participate fully in the talks.
“There’s nothing more important than trying to convince Iran to cease its effort to obtain nuclear weapons,” Clinton said.
Ahmadinejad’s advisor Javanfekr said Tehran will study the “constructive proposal” which “shows a change of approach (from the world powers).”
“We hope that this proposal means a change of approach to a more realistic attitude. The Islamic Republic of Iran will examine (it) and give its response.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, piled pressure on Tehran Thursday by saying it must convince the world that its nuclear programme has exclusively peaceful purposes.
“What’s needed from Iran is that it convinces us all of the exclusively peaceful character of its nuclear programme,” Lavrov said in an interview with Russian media outlets including the RIA Novosti news agency.
Underlining Russia’s relatively close ties with Iran however, he reiterated Moscow’s view that there is no evidence Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.