Iran said Sunday it has ended all voluntary cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog but would still hold talks with Moscow on a proposal to enrich Iranian uranium in Russia, reversing an earlier decision to abandon those talks.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran had implemented the president’s orders to end voluntary cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had ordered the move Saturday in response to the U.N. agency decision to refer Iran to the Security Council over fears the country is trying to develop a nuclear bomb. It means Iran will resume uranium enrichment and will no longer allow snap IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities — voluntary measures it had allowed in recent years in a gesture to build trust.
“We ended all the voluntary cooperation we have been extending to the IAEA in the past two-and-a-half to three years, on the basis of the president’s order,” Mottaki said. “We do not have any obligation toward the additional protocol (anymore).”
The action was required under a law passed last year.
Iran has repeatedly stressed that it will continue to honor its commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty but that it has the right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program.
“Adoption of the policy of resistance doesn’t mean we are on non-speaking terms or noncooperative,” Mottaki said. “Yesterday we had two options. One was the option of resistance and the other was surrender. We chose resistance.”
Tehran says it's open to negotiations
Earlier, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Iran was open to negotiations on a Moscow’s proposal that Iran shift its plan for large-scale enrichment of uranium to Russian territory. The plan is intended to allay world suspicions that Iran might use the process to develop a nuclear bomb.
Uranium enriched to a low degree is used as fuel for nuclear reactors. But highly enriched uranium is suitable for making atomic bombs.
“The situation has changed. Still, we will attend talks with Russia on February 16,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said at a press conference.
“The proposal has to conform itself with the new circumstances,” he added. “If the Russian proposal makes itself compatible with the new conditions, it can be negotiated.”
His comments came a day after Javad Vaeidi, deputy head of the powerful National Security Council, said there was there was “no adequate reason to pursue the Russian plan.”
Major policy shift?
It was not clear if the change of course represented a major shift in Iran’s strategy in the crisis over its nuclear activities. Asefi said “the door for negotiations is still open” over Iran’s nuclear program.
“We don’t fear the Security Council. It’s not the end of the world,” he added.
“The proposal has to conform itself with the new circumstances,” Asefi said. “If the Russian proposal makes itself compatible with the new conditions, it can be negotiated.”
Iran has said the Russian proposal has ambiguities that need to be clarified in talks. Iranian officials have also said Tehran would reject the proposal if it sought to prevent Iran from enriching uranium inside the country. They insist it must only be a complementary measure to Iran’s nuclear program.
Earlier Sunday, Ahmadinejad brushed off the IAEA referral.
“Issue as many resolutions like this as you want and make yourself happy. You can’t prevent the progress of the Iranian nation,” he said in comments carried by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
“In the name of the IAEA they want to visit all our nuclear facilities and learn our defense capabilities, but we won’t allow them to do this,” he added.
Asefi reiterated that Iran would cooperate with the IAEA within the framework of the NPT and the Safeguard Agreement.
“We chose our way wisely. We have solutions for all situations that may develop. Referring Iran to the Security Council will definitely harm the other party more than Iran,” Asefi said.
Twenty-seven of 35 member nations on the IAEA board voted for Iran’s referral, reflecting more than two years of intense lobbying by the United States and its allies to enlist broad backing for such a move. Cuba, Venezuela and Syria voted against, and five members abstained.
After years of opposition, Russia and China backed the referral last week, bringing support from other nations who had been waiting for their lead.
But in return, Moscow and Beijing demanded that the Americans — and France and Britain, the two other veto-wielding Security Council members — agree to let the Iran issue rest until at least March, when the IAEA board meets again to review the agency’s investigation of Iran’s nuclear program and its compliance with board demands that it renounce uranium enrichment.