Sunday Telegraph: An Iranian foreign policy official has boasted that the regime bought extra time over its stalled negotiations with Europe to complete a uranium conversion plant. In comments that will infuriate EU diplomats, Hosein Musavian said that Teheran took advantage of the nine months of talks, which collapsed last week, to finish work at its Isfahan enrichment facility. Sunday Telegraph
By Colin Freeman
An Iranian foreign policy official has boasted that the regime bought extra time over its stalled negotiations with Europe to complete a uranium conversion plant.
In comments that will infuriate EU diplomats, Hosein Musavian said that Teheran took advantage of the nine months of talks, which collapsed last week, to finish work at its Isfahan enrichment facility.
“Thanks to the negotiations with Europe we gained another year in which we completed the [project”> in Isfahan,” he told an Iranian television interviewer.
Mr Musavian also claimed that work on nuclear centrifuges at a plant at Natanz, which was kept secret until Iran’s exiled opposition revealed its existence in 2002, progressed during the negotiations.
“We needed six to 12 months to complete the work on the centrifuges,” said Mr Musavian, chairman of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council’s foreign policy committee. He made his remarks on August 4 – two days before Iran’s foreign ministry rejected the European Union offer of incentives to abandon its uranium enrichment programme.
Critics of the regime will see his comments as confirmation that Iran never contemplated giving up its programme, despite top-level diplomacy involving Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and his French and German counterparts.
The US was always pessimistic about the talks’ chance of success. Yesterday President George W Bush refused to rule out using military force to press Iran into giving up its nuclear programme, which Washington suspects is a front for weapons-making. “All options are on the table,” Mr Bush told Israeli television.
Mr Musavian, whose remarks were translated by the Middle East Research Institute based in Washington, was responding to criticism from Iranian hardliners that Teheran should never have entered into the EU negotiations.
He said that until then, Iran had dealt solely with the UN-backed International Atomic Energy Authority, which had given it a 50-day deadline to suspend uranium enrichment on pain of referral to the UN Security Council.
“The IAEA give us a 50-day extension to suspend the enrichment and all related activities,” he said. “But thanks to the negotiations with Europe we gained another year, in which we completed the [project”> in Isfahan.”
The plant, about 250 miles south of Teheran, carries out an early stage of the cycle for developing nuclear fuel, turning yellowcake into UF4 and then into UF6, a gas essential to enrichment.
“Today, we are in a position of power,” Mr Musavian said. “Isfahan is complete and has a stockpile of products.” Mr Musavian also said that Iran had further benefited from sweeteners offered by the EU, including the invitation to enter talks on Iran joining the World Trade Organisation.
Iran is facing possible referral to the Security Council after scientists began breaking seals at the Isfahan plant, a precursor to resuming the research it agreed to suspend during the EU talks.
The Foreign Office declined to comment on Mr Musavian’s rem-arks. Last week it said Iran made a “serious mistake” by opting to resume uranium conversion.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, is due to report on Iran’s renewed nuclear activities on September 3, which could trigger a Security Council referral.