By Parisa Hafezi
TEHRAN - Iran on Sunday rejected a European Union proposal that it stop enriching uranium in return for nuclear technology, increasing the likelihood that it will be reported to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.
Diplomats had said if Iran rejected the proposal drafted by Britain, Germany and France, most EU countries would back a U.S. demand that Tehran be reported to the Security Council when the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meets on Nov. 25.
The EU trio want Iran to halt uranium enrichment since it can be used to make nuclear bomb material. Iran insists it only wants to make the fuel for nuclear power stations.
"The EU proposal is unbalanced ... an indefinite uranium suspension is unacceptable for Iran," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told a news conference.
But Asefi left the door open for an agreement after further talks scheduled for later this week in Vienna.
"We view the European offer as a preliminary proposal, not a final one," he said. "Negotiations will continue on Wednesday. We will have our own suggestions and we will study the Europeans' proposal and will give the Europeans the results."
Washington accuses oil-rich Iran of using its nuclear program as a veil for developing an atomic arsenal.
Diplomats said Iran's negotiating tactics may be an attempt to buy more time or squeeze more concessions from the Europeans.
"But they're in grave danger of miscalculating how resolved we are this time," said a European diplomat.
The EU "big three," Britain, Germany and France, have led a European effort at compromise that would avoid sending Iran's case to the U.N. Security Council.
"The Europeans have chosen the right way by negotiations," Asefi said. "We have to reach an agreement that would solve the Europeans' worries and give us our rights."
Even before Asefi's comments, diplomats and analysts had expressed doubts that Iran would accept the EU trio's proposal.
"They're quite confident right now," said political analyst Mahmoud Alinejad.
"They think that even if they are referred to the Security Council it will not be that serious in that there won't be an embargo on Iran's oil or anything really damaging and if sanctions are imposed it would end up being more (politically) damaging for the Europeans and Americans than for them."
Iran feels it can rely on permanent Security Council members Russia and China to use their veto power or at least abstain in any vote against Iran.
One European diplomat familiar with the EU trio's proposal said it contained too little to attract Iran.
In return for giving up uranium enrichment the Europeans would guarantee a supply of reactor fuel and help Iran build a light-water power reactor. The Europeans also pledged to resume talks on a trade deal, cooperate on terrorism and drug trafficking and explore joint investment opportunities.
"The carrots are too vague and the Iranians are mistrustful of the guarantees. They won't be very interested but it may be enough to start a process of negotiations," the diplomat said.
Hossein Mousavian, one of Iran's top nuclear negotiators, expressed confidence agreement would be reached before the next IAEA board meeting, averting a showdown in the Security Council.
"The important thing is that Iran and Europe reach a general agreement before the November meeting," he told state television. "They can then discuss the details."