ALI AKBAR DAREINI
TEHRAN, Iran - Iran toughened its position over its nuclear program Sunday, vowing to maintain its demand to exempt 20 centrifuges it says it wants for research despite international efforts to save a deal committing Tehran to freeze uranium enrichment and all related activities.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi also said Tehran was not worried about being referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.
"The issue of research and development is separate from discussions about suspension," Asefi told reporters Sunday. "We always had research and development in the past and we will continue that in the future. We will use the 20 centrifuges for research."
Iran insists using the 20 centrifuges purely for research is not prohibited by a Nov. 7 agreement worked out with Germany, France and Britain on behalf of the European Union to suspend all uranium enrichment and related activities. The European Union disagrees.
The dispute over Iran's interpretation of the deal stalled an International Atomic Energy Agency board meeting in Vienna, Austria, which was adjourned Friday until Monday.
That was meant to give time for the Iranian government to consider and approve a total freeze of the program - which can produce both low-grade nuclear fuel and weapons-grade material for the core of nuclear warheads - and for delegates to decide on further steps in policing Tehran's nuclear activities.
Asefi said Iran won't give up on its position on the centrifuges, even if time was running out for a final agreement.
"We are negotiating with Europeans to specify the way we are going to use the 20 centrifuges. ... What is important is the legitimate right of our country, and we won't give (that) up," he said.
EU delegates to the Vienna meeting said discussions continued Saturday by phone between British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and Hassan Rowhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council and his country's point man on nuclear matters. But they said the Europeans would not budge on insisting on a full freeze that included the centrifuges.
As the board awaited a formal Iranian response, France, Germany and Britain toned down language in a proposed Security Council resolution in an attempt to entice Tehran to sign on to full suspension. The confidential draft, made available to The Associated Press, weakened language on how any freeze would be monitored by the agency. It was said by Western diplomats to be unsatisfactory to the United States.
Still, refusal by Tehran to drop demands to exempt equipment from the enrichment suspension could prompt a much harsher resolution that could include the threat of U.N. Security Council action.
"We are not worried about referral to the U.N. Security Council," Asefi said. "But we prefer that negotiations be continued within the framework of the IAEA because otherwise the capabilities of the agency and Europe will be in doubt."