Iran reiterated on Tuesday it was only prepared to freeze its uranium enrichment activities for a few months and would not, as the EU and Washington want, permanently mothball facilities which could make atomic bombs.
The comments, made by Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, were a further blow to European Union efforts to persuade Tehran to scrap enrichment for good and were likely to fuel U.S. concerns that Iran secretly plans to produce nuclear weapons.
Iran, which insists its nuclear program is solely for electricity generation, on Monday escaped possible U.N. sanctions after agreeing to suspend all activities which could be used to make bomb-grade material.
The EU hopes Iran will make the suspension permanent in return for trade deals and other incentives. But Tehran says it will never give up its right to develop a fully-fledged nuclear program, from uranium mines to reactors.
“The length of the suspension will only be for the length of the negotiations with the Europeans and... must be rational and not too long,” Hassan Rohani told a news conference.
“We’re talking about months, not years,” said the cleric, who is secretary-general of Iran’s top security body, the Supreme National Security Council.
The United States has expressed skepticism that Iran will stick to the nuclear freeze and says it reserves the right to take Iran’s case to the Security Council on its own.
“The Americans have called for Iran to be reported to the Security Council for a year and a half, now the whole world has turned down America’s calls,” Rohani said.
“Despite the U.S. propaganda Iran has not relinquished its right to the (nuclear) fuel cycle and it never will do,” he said.
Iran says talks are a positive sign
Western diplomats have expressed growing frustration with Iran, which reneged on a similar suspension six months ago and wrangled over each step of negotiations on the current freeze.
But Rohani said Iran’s talks with the EU over the nuclear issue were a positive sign to the world.
“This is a historical opportunity for Iran and Europe to prove to the world that unilateralism is condemned, that the world’s most complicated matters can be solved by negotiation.”
“Negotiations with Europe will be complicated, it won’t be easy and will have lots of ups and downs,” he added, warning: “If the Europeans do not show honesty, we will leave the talks.”
“Europe wants objective guarantees that our enrichment activities won’t be diverted to making weapons. How to implement this guarantee will be the most difficult part of the negotiations,” he said.
The Iran-EU talks are due to resume on Dec. 15, by which time the two sides must resolve a dispute over 20 uranium enrichment centrifuges which Iran wanted to exempt from the freeze.
Iran says it will not use the centrifuges to enrich uranium — a process which can make atomic reactor fuel or bomb-grade material. But it wants to use them for other tests and research.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana said Iran’s nuclear freeze meant talks would resume on a trade and cooperation agreement. The talks have been on hold for more than a year.
“Working together in a constructive spirit, I believe we now have the chance for a new chapter in our relationship with Iran,” he said in a statement.
Rohani said the world had nothing to fear from Iran’s nuclear facilities. “If we had wanted to make a nuclear bomb we would have made one in the last 20 years,” he said.