x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Iran rejects West's 'demands' before elusive nuclear talks

Iran says it will neither close its Fordo nuclear bunker nor give up higher-level uranium enrichment.

TEHRAN // Iran yesterday rejected demands the West is reportedly to submit at talks due to take place in days, saying it will neither close its Fordo nuclear bunker nor give up higher-level uranium enrichment.

Those two demands, outlined by European and US diplomats to The New York Times newspaper, were "irrational", the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, told ISNA news agency in a lengthy interview.

Fordo, an underground bunker near the holy city of Qom, "is built underground because of sanctions and the threats of attacks," he pointed out.

"If they do not threaten us and guarantee that no aggression will occur, then there would be no need for countries to build facilities underground. They should change their behaviour and language," he said.

Iran's enrichment of uranium to 20 per cent purity would likewise continue, despite unease from members of the P5+1 group - the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany - that it produced uranium stock just a few steps short of military-grade 90-per cent purity, Abbasi Davani said.

"We do not see any rationale for such a request from the P5+1," he said.

But, he added, "We will not produce 20 per cent enrichment fuel more than what we need, because it is not in our benefit to produce and keep it."

Iran says it needs 20-per cent enriched uranium to produce medical isotopes in its Tehran research reactor, and lower, 3.5-per cent enriched uranium for electricity generation in its Bushehr reactor.

It insists that its entire nuclear programme is for exclusively peaceful ends.

The United States and its European allies, however, fear the higher enrichment is part of a drive to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

The New York Times quoted unnamed US and EU diplomats as saying the West would call for Fordo to be closed immediately and dismantled, and for uranium enrichment to 20 per cent to be halted and for existing stockpiles to be shipped out of Iran.

The demands would be the opening move in what US President Barack Obama has called Iran's "last chance" to resolve the showdown over the nuclear issue diplomatically, the report said.

"We have no idea how the Iranians will react," the paper quoted one senior administration official as saying. "We probably won't know after the first meeting."

Israel has threatened to launch an attack if Iran is deemed to be about to enter a "zone of immunity" that would put its atomic activities beyond the reach of Israeli missiles.

Yesterday Israel's defence minister called on the international community to press Iran to give up its stockpile of high-grade enriched uranium in the upcoming negotiations over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme. With the comments, Ehud Barak appeared to offer a possible way out of the standoff over the Iranian nuclear programme. Speaking to CNN, Mr Barak said Israel has told the US and European countries that "the threshold for successful negotiations" would be a halt in Iranian enrichment of uranium to the 20 per cent level. In addition, he said, all uranium already enriched to that level should be transferred to a "neighbouring trusted country."

The United States has said military action is a last option, and has put its energies into tightening the sanctions noose on Iran while trying to engage it diplomatically.

Talks between the P5+1 and Iran are seen as a chance to defuse tensions and find ways to overcome mutual suspicions.

But while both sides agree the planned two days of negotiations should begin on Friday, there is still no agreement on the venue.

Iran had initially proposed Istanbul - the host of the last round of talks, which failed in January 2011 - but then dropped it after Turkey lent backing to the opposition in its chief ally Syria, and suggested Baghdad or Beijing instead.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a statement on his official website: Iran is ready for negotiations and welcomes any suggestion for cooperation"

He said "Iran has practical suggestions for the upcoming meeting," but did not elaborate.