05262018Sat

Iran says U.S., powers must be more constructive in atom talks

Reuters: Iran is ready for new talks with global powers on its nuclear program but the United States and others seeking to rein in its uranium enrichment activities must be more constructive, Tehran's ambassador to Russia said on Monday. By Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Iran is ready for new talks with global powers on its nuclear program but the United States and others seeking to rein in its uranium enrichment activities must be more constructive, Tehran's ambassador to Russia said on Monday.

Barack Obama's re-election has increased the chances of a revival of talks between Iran and six powers, but the envoy said the U.S. president should "change the conduct of the United States as regards Iran and choose a more logical approach."

Ambassador Reza Sajjadi said senior Iranian officials had conveyed Tehran's preparedness for new negotiations to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov last week, but his remarks appeared to set a firm tone for any new round.

"We hope that in the next talks, the six nations - instead of (applying) a double standard, would approach these talks more constructively," Sajjadi told a news conference, speaking through an interpreter.

Three rounds of talks since April have failed to resolve the long dispute over Iran's nuclear program, which Western powers say is aimed at developing a nuclear weapons capability. Iran denies this, saying its program is for peaceful energy only.

But neither side has been willing to abandon dialogue, in part because a total breakdown could heighten the risk of Israel bombing Iranian nuclear facilities, potentially igniting a new war in the Middle East.

The six nations leading diplomatic efforts with Iran - permanent U.N. Security Council members the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, as well as Germany - meet on Wednesday to discuss negotiating strategy.

UNDERGROUND ENRICHMENT

Iran's critics say it has used talks to play for time while drawing closer to weapons capability, mostly by increasing its stockpile of uranium enriched to a level - 20 percent - that makes it relatively easy to further process to bomb grade.

Uranium enrichment refined to 5 percent is suitable to fuel civilian nuclear power plants - Iran has none but says it plans to build them - while Tehran says the 20 percent product is for running its Tehran medical research reactor.

A U.N. nuclear agency report last week said Iran is set to sharply expand its uranium enrichment after installing all the centrifuges its underground Fordow plant was built for. Uranium is being enriched to 20 percent purity there.

Asked whether the additional centrifuges at Fordow would be used to refine to 20 percent or to the lower level required to make reactor fuel, Sajjadi did not answer directly but gave no indication they would be used for lower-level enrichment.

"Fordow already is operating, and ... is carrying out enrichment of uranium up to 20 percent," he said.

Sajjadi said a priority for Iran at a new round of talks would be receiving a formal response from the global powers to a "five-point" proposal that Tehran put forward at previous talks and includes a range of nuclear and non-nuclear issues.

He did not elaborate on how the United States and other powers could be more constructive. But his references to "logical approach" and "double standard", have often been used by Iranian negotiators and are regarded as code language for Tehran's demand for formal recognition of the right to enrich uranium and a removal of U.N. sanctions.

They were also another signal that Iran would not buckle under increasingly harsh economic sanctions meant to pressure it to suspend enrichment and negotiate on safeguards that big powers see as vital to ensuring Iran's program is peaceful.

"During the talks, the United States had two approaches up until now. First of all, they wanted to force Iran to retreat and to reject its legal rights. And second, to damage Iran's economy and deliver blows to the Iranian people," Sajjadi said.

"Iran has shown that there will be no retreat and that the reaction of the Iranian people to such mistaken actions will be decisive. So it is probably necessary for Mr. Obama to change the conduct of the United States as regards Iran and choose a more logical approach."

A diplomat familiar with Fordow said that 700 centrifuges which had been newly installed and tested were ready to start enriching "any day" but that it was still unclear whether they would be used for 20 percent refined uranium - as the 700 already operating there - or for lower-grade material.

"They can be used for 20 percent and can also be used for 5 pct," the diplomat said. They are fully ready."

(Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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