Reuters: Iran said on Sunday it would not suspend uranium enrichment, ruling out the main demand in a nuclear package backed by six world powers that aims to allay Western fears that Tehran is seeking to build atomic bombs. By Edmund Blair
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran said on Sunday it would not suspend uranium enrichment, ruling out the main demand in a nuclear package backed by six world powers that aims to allay Western fears that Tehran is seeking to build atomic bombs.
Iran says it will formally respond by Tuesday to proposals made by the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany. The six have offered incentives for Iran to suspend enrichment, a process that has both military and civilian uses.
Tehran, which insists its nuclear aims are purely civilian, shows no sign of accepting the package.
“We are not going to suspend (enrichment). The issue was that everything should come out of negotiations, but suspension of uranium enrichment is not on our agenda,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a weekly news conference.
Western diplomats say Iran must halt the atomic work before talks can start. Any response that falls short of that is likely to be considered a rejection of the offer in Western capitals.
Iran’s case has already been sent back to the U.N. Security Council because Tehran did not reply quickly enough and, last month, the council passed a resolution demanding Iran suspend enrichment by August 31 or face possible sanctions.
The package offers Iran state-of-the-art nuclear technology, the easing of some trade restrictions and other incentives such as support for a regional security dialogue.
The United States has said it will join multilateral talks with Iran if it accepts, a move seen as a policy shift in Washington which cut ties with Tehran after the 1979 Islamic revolution. But Washington has also warned of swift U.N. action if Iran refuses.
Western diplomats who follow the work of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) say Iran has been “complicating” the U.N. watchdog’s work in monitoring nuclear sites in the runup to the August 31 deadline, denying entry to a senior inspector and cutting back on multiple-entry visas for IAEA staff.
“It’s not outright obstruction, but Iran is creating complications within its rights (not created before). They have reduced cooperation to a minimum under treaty obligations,” one Western diplomat in Europe said.
Asefi said one inspector had been “replaced on Iran’s request” although he said Iran could continue to give routine access. But he suggested this policy could change.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has threatened to quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if Iran feels undue pressure.
Analysts say Iran’s defiance may be based on a calculation that divisions at the United Nations mean it will only face modest measures such as travel restrictions on officials or asset freezes. The world’s fourth largest oil exporter, brimming with petrodollars, feels it can cope with such steps.
Permanent Security Council members United States, Britain and France back sanctions, but China and Russia, the two other members with veto powers, oppose such steps.
Some analysts say Iran may also feel its hand is stronger after Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas scored what they and Tehran called a victory against U.S. ally Israel.
The United States says it wants a diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff but has refused to rule out military action.
Iran has not said precisely what day it will give its answer or who will deliver the reply.
Chief atomic negotiator Ali Larijani is Iran’s interlocutor with the Europeans who drew up the package, while Ahmadinejad has been a vociferous critic of the demand to stop enrichment.
Under Iran’s system of clerical rule, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say in matters of state, not the president. Hehas said Iran will not bow to pressure.
(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Alireza Ronaghi in Tehran and Mark Heinrich in London)