Reuters: Iran told world powers on Tuesday it would pursue its right to develop nuclear technology, whatever they decide at a meeting in Moscow later in the day.
By Edmund Blair
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran told world powers on Tuesday it would pursue its right to develop nuclear technology, whatever they decide at a meeting in Moscow later in the day.
The United States, which accuses Iran of seeking atom bombs, was expected to push for targeted sanctions against Tehran when it meets the U.N. Security Council’s other permanent members — Britain, France, China and Russia — plus Germany in Moscow.
Deputy foreign ministers from the six nations are meeting ahead of an end-April deadline for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to report on whether Iran is complying with United Nations demands that it halt uranium enrichment.
“I recommend that they do not make hasty decisions, be prudent and study their path in the past,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman said, IRNA news agency reported. “Any time they have pressured Iran they have got adverse results.”
Hamid Reza Asefi later told state television: “Whatever the result of this meeting might be, Iran will not abandon its rights (to nuclear technology).”
Iran defied U.N. demands by declaring last week it had enriched uranium to a level used in power stations and was aiming for industrial-scale production, ratcheting up tensions and sending oil prices to record highs above $72 a barrel.
Washington says it wants a diplomatic solution to the crisis but has not ruled out military action. Other council members oppose the use of force. China, which like Russia is against military action and sanctions, called for restraint.
The United States, which already enforces its own sweeping sanctions on Iran, said it wanted the Security Council to be ready to take strong diplomatic action, including so-called targeted measures such as a freeze on assets and visa curbs.
“We’re kind of sanctioned out at this point. We’re down to pistachios and rugs,” U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington, adding that he did not expect major decisions to be taken at the Moscow meeting.
Washington says it does not want to embargo Iran’s oil and gas industries to avoid creating hardship for the Iranian people. Iran is the world’s fourth-biggest oil exporter.
CHINA, RUSSIA OPPOSE SANCTIONS
China, which sent an envoy to Iran on Friday to try to defuse the standoff, repeated a call for a negotiated solution.
“We hope all sides will maintain restraint and flexibility to create conditions favourable to an appropriate resolution of the Iran nuclear issue through diplomatic negotiations,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said in Beijing.
Russia also restated its opposition punitive action. “We are convinced that neither the sanctions route nor the use of force route will lead to a solution of this problem,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said, Itar-Tass news agency reported.
Oil market fears that the dispute could turn violent have been fuelled by a report of U.S. plans for military strikes — dismissed by President George W. Bush as “wild speculation”.
North Sea Brent crude oil soared to an all-time high above $72 a barrel on Tuesday as the war of words rumbled on.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the army was ready to defend the nation, speaking at an annual parade in which battle tanks and short-range missiles were towed past.
“It will cut off the hands of any aggressors and will make any aggressor regret it,” Ahmadinejad declared.
He has said Iran will not drop its right to enrich uranium for peaceful use but that it will work with the IAEA.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog says it has been unable to verify that Iran’s nuclear programme is purely civilian, but has found no hard proof of efforts to build atomic weapons. It says several issues about the programme need clarification.
IAEA inspectors are due in Iran on Friday to visit nuclear sites, including one at Natanz where Iran says it has enriched uranium to 3.5 percent, the level used in nuclear power plants.
IRNA news agency said Olli Heinonen, ElBaradei’s deputy for safeguards issues, would lead the team. One diplomat said his presence suggested Iran might provide some missing information.
Experts say it would take Iran years to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb from its current 164 centrifuges. But Iran says it will to install 3,000 centrifuges, which could make enough material for a warhead in one year.
Iran says the Natanz plant will be able to house 54,000 centrifuges. It also says it is going ahead with research on P-2 centrifuges, which are faster than the P-1 versions it now uses.
(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Alireza Ronaghi in Tehran, Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow, Sue Pleming in Washington, Mark Heinrich in Vienna)