x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Iran can still strike a deal with West over nuclear research, Obama says

US president says there should be a way for Iran to enjoy 'peaceful nuclear power' while meeting international obligations and providing assurances that it is not developing nuclear weapons.

WASHINGTON // The US president, Barack Obama, has said there is still time to resolve an impasse with Iran over its nuclear programme.

There should be a way for Iran to enjoy "peaceful nuclear power" while meeting international obligations and providing assurances that it is not developing nuclear weapons, he added.

Iran is considering a more confrontational strategy over its nuclear programme, threatening to boost levels of uranium enrichment unless the West agrees to ease the sanctions that have damaged its economy. The US has indicated a willingness to pursue one-on-one talks but no deal has been reached.

During his first White House press conference since being re-elected this month, Mr Obama said he "can't promise that Iran will walk through the door they need to walk through" but added "I very much want to see a diplomatic resolution to the problem".

"I will try to make a push in the coming months to see if we can open up a dialogue between Iran and not just us, but the international community, to see if we can get this thing resolved," he added.

Though he was careful to stress that Washington remains adamantly opposed to letting Iran develop nuclear weapons, he said: "There is still a window of time for us it resolve this diplomatically".

He noted the crippling sanctions imposed on Iran by the UN Security Council and unilateral Western restrictions on Tehran's oil sector and banks, calling them the "toughest sanctions in history".

Iran insists it is developing nuclear energy for peaceful, civilian purposes, but Israel and Western nations fear the programme is a cover for nuclear-weapon development.

Diplomats have warned that Iran is on the threshold of boosting output of material that can be turned into the weapons-grade uranium used in nuclear warheads.

One diplomat said that within days, Tehran could almost double the current level of production of 20-per cent enriched uranium at the heavily fortified Fordo enrichment plant.

"There should be a way in which they can enjoy peaceful nuclear power while still meeting their international obligations and providing clear assurances to the international community that they're not pursuing a nuclear weapon," said Mr Obama.

"I can't promise that Iran will walk through the door that they need to walk through - but that would be very much the preferable option."

Mr Obama denied that talks with Iran were imminent but added: "I think it is fair to say that we want to get this resolved and we're not going to be constrained by diplomatic niceties or protocols if Iran is serious about wanting to resolve this."