TEHRAN, (Reuters) – Iran vowed on Saturday to pursue its uranium enrichment programme, a day after delivering its response to an incentives package by world powers trying to curb its nuclear ambitions.
No details were released of Iran’s formal reply on Friday — submitted to EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana — to the offer of talks on benefits if Tehran halts enrichment the West suspects is for nuclear bombs. Iran says its plans are peaceful.
In its first public statement after giving the response, government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham said that Iran had no intention of discussing its “right to enriching uranium”. “Iran’s stance has not changed (on uranium enrichment) and we are ready to hold talks in the framework of preserving Iran’s nuclear rights,” Elham told a news conference on Saturday.
Foreign Minister Monouchehr Mottaki said Solana would meet Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in the next two weeks for preliminary talks. “They will start to establish a modality for continuation of this cooperation,” Mottaki told Malaysian private broadcaster Astro Awani in an interview broadcast late on Saturday.
Solana’s spokeswoman said he was willing to meet Jalili soon, but gave no details. “In principle, the position is to respond favourably,” she said.
Iran, the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter, says its nuclear activities are only aimed at generating power so that it can export more oil but the United States and its European allies suspect Tehran is pursuing an atomic weapons project.
Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for power plants but also, if refined much more, provide material for nuclear bombs. The row over Iran’s nuclear work sparked fears of military confrontation and helped push oil prices to record highs.
Iran’s oil minister said any attack aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear work will push crude prices to “unpredictable” highs, the website of the country’s Oil Ministry reported on Saturday. “When oil prices change by $10 to $15 by official comments (about the market), oil prices will be pushed to unpredictable highs if some take an unwise decision to attack Iran,” it quoted Oil Minister Gholamhossein Nozari as saying.
The offer of trade and other incentives proposed by the United States, China, Russia, Germany, Britain and France was presented to Iran by Solana last month.
The six powers have told Iran that formal negotiations on the offer, which includes help to develop a civilian nuclear programme, can start as soon as it suspends uranium enrichment.
Iran has so far rejected the demand, saying this violates its rights as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). “Today Iran sees the unilateral stance and beliefs of some governments (on its nuclear plans) as illogical,” Elham said.
Jalili told Solana on Friday that Tehran had prepared its response with a “constructive and creative outlook”.
The Islamic Republic has put forward its own package of proposals aimed at resolving the dispute and has said it was encouraged by common points between the two separate proposals.
Mottaki said Iran was not looking to develop a nuclear weapon. “We believe it is not a defence weapon even,” he said. “We are ready for a sincere and constructive cooperation … together with the international community to solve the problem.”
Elham said Iran would not yield to international pressure on its nuclear activities adding that the common points of the two packages could be discussed in nuclear talks with Solana. “In our response, it has been emphasised that talks will be held only on the common points of the two packages,” Elham said.
Analysts and diplomats say it is uncertain if Iran might accept a “freeze-for-freeze” idea to get preparatory talks going.
Such a step would involve Tehran freezing expansion of nuclear enrichment in return for world powers halting moves to add to three rounds of U.N. sanctions already imposed.