updated 4/24/2005 1:15:21 PM ET 2005-04-24T17:15:21

Iran will resume uranium enrichment regardless of the outcome of its negotiations with three European powers over its nuclear program, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Sunday.

Speaking to reporters five days before Iran is to resume nuclear talks with France, Britain and Germany, Hamid Reza Asefi said the Europeans appeared to be serious in seeking an agreement with Iran. But he added that any settlement had to respect Iran’s right, as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to enrich uranium.

The Europeans have been offering economic incentives in the hope that Iran will turn its temporary suspension of uranium enrichment activities into a permanent freeze.

Asefi said Iran would not continue its suspension of enrichment for long.

“It is not a matter of a year, but months,” he said of the suspension, which was imposed last year to boost confidence ahead of negotiations.

“If Iran feels that the Europeans intend to waste time by prolonging the talks, Iran won’t insist on continuing the talks.”

The United States, backed by Israel, believes Iran is using a civilian nuclear development program as a cover to make atomic weapons. It has threatened to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which can impose sanctions, but has held off pending the negotiations with the Europeans.

The Europeans also have called on Iran to abandon enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear reactors and, taken to a higher level, material for bombs.

‘We will resume doing it’
Iran insists its nuclear program is entirely for the generation of electricity and has offered to provide safeguards of its good intentions.

“We will put the issue of uranium enrichment on our agenda and, after some time, we will resume doing it. We will do it whether the talks with the Europeans lead to failure or agreement,” Asefi said.

Asefi said that while the talks had moved slowly and had failed to meet Iranian expectations, they had not been a total failure.

Earlier this month, President Mohammad Khatami said the negotiations with Europe had been difficult, but they were making progress. They are due to resume April 29.

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