Iran Nuclear NewsIran's message is softly spoken, yet clear: It will...

Iran’s message is softly spoken, yet clear: It will enrich uranium

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The Independent: Iran has issued its strongest signal to date that it will defy UN demands for a suspension of uranium enrichment – a possible route towards a nuclear bomb – threatening to respond to any further sanctions and accusing the Americans of “running away” from negotiations to end the crisis over the Iranian nuclear programme. The Independent

By Anne Penketh in Tehran

Iran has issued its strongest signal to date that it will defy UN demands for a suspension of uranium enrichment – a possible route towards a nuclear bomb – threatening to respond to any further sanctions and accusing the Americans of “running away” from negotiations to end the crisis over the Iranian nuclear programme.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator told The Independent yesterday that uranium enrichment was “like breathing” for his country, and that Iran would not halt the spinning centrifuges at its main enrichment plant in Natanz, even if the Bush administration offered security guarantees.

Ali Larijani reports directly to Iran’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and to Iran’s radical President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who appointed him. To be granted an interview in the Supreme National Security Council is a rare event for any foreign journalist.

Mr Larijani was unusually forthcoming about his negotiations with the European foreign policy envoy, Javier Solana, who has been trying to coax Iran back to the negotiating table while the UN Security Council prepares a new round of economic sanctions. The Europeans have taken the lead in dealing with Iran, which has not had diplomatic relations with Washington since 1979. They want Iran to suspend uranium enrichment as a precondition for negotiations. This has been rejected. The Iranians say that the last time they agreed to a voluntary suspension, a three-week suspension ended up lasting two and a half years. They say they will not be caught out again.

Asked whether Iran might reconsider its refusal to suspend enrichment if it were to receive security guarantees from America and a promise that the US would not seek regime change, Mr Larijani responded: “We are in no need of US security guarantees. I do not see a relation between these two matters. This example of yours is like saying, ‘if the Americans provide you with a security guarantee are you ready to give up breathing?'”

His comments are laced with indiscreet anecdotes, details of conversations with European foreign ministers, who, he says, have told him that the West is determined to prevent Iran from developing its own enrichment capability in order to guarantee that it will not be diverted towards a bomb.

During the 90-minute conversation with six journalists from Britain, France, Germany and the US, the soft-spoken conservative noted that an Iranian proposal for an international consortium to enrich uranium inside Iran was rejected by the Americans. “They do not want Iran to have the nuclear technology, which is a strategic mistake because Iran has already acquired this knowledge.”

Another senior Iranian official said that with almost 3,000 centrifuges now running at Natanz, “we have at the moment enough centrifuges to go to a bomb”. But the official added that Iran was barred by its own security and defence doctrine, by parliament, and by a religious fatwa issued by the Supreme Leader, from building a bomb. The official added that if Iran produced a single bomb “what is it good for? If we attack Israeli with one bomb, America would attack us with thousands of bombs. It’s suicide.”

However, Iran is pursuing a strategy of negotiations plus renewed co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency in hopes of reaching a “technical and legal” solution before the crisis escalates at the UN in September. The IAEA said yesterday inspectors would return to the Arak heavy-water complex, which is under construction, on Monday or Tuesday – four months after Iran cut off IAEA access there in protest at sanctions.

Yet the senior official revealed that last month Iran had rejected Mr Solana’s offer of a one-month freeze in which the Iranians would remain at the present level of centrifuge installation, in return for shelving plans for a third UN resolution.

The Iranian Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said on Monday that new sanctions would mean “confrontation” with Iran, while the senior official said Iran would be “tempted to do illegal things”. He did not elaborate. Iran believes the proposal for an international consortium is the best option to end the deadlock, but has also proposed the permanent stationing of UN inspectors and even “smart centrifuges” which explode when uranium is enriched past a certain percentage.

The Iranians believe that they have the upper hand, with the Americans bogged down in Iraq. “Iran’s capability is a reality, sanctions can’t work, the military option is unthinkable. The only way is to start negotiations with Iran,” said the official.

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