Iran says might halt high-level uranium enrichment

Iran says might halt high-level uranium enrichment
# 20 August 2010 19:25 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. Iran would stop higher-grade enrichment if it is assured of nuclear fuel supplies for a research reactor, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying in a Japanese newspaper on Friday, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.
Published on the eve of the inauguration of Iran’s first nuclear power plant, Ahmadinejad’s comments appeared to signal possible willingness to compromise on a key concern for the West regarding the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
Major powers suspect that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear bombs, a fear that was heightened by its move in February to start enriching uranium to a level of 20 percent from around 3.5 percent previously, taking it closer to weapons-grade levels.
Iran says all its work is for peaceful purposes and that it was forced to enrich to higher levels after U.N.-backed talks for a fuel swap deal with the United States, Russia and France stalled late last year.
In June, the U.N. Security Council passed a fourth sanctions resolution against Tehran, with Washington and Brussels piling on tougher economic punishment. Like previous sanctions, it called for a halt of Iran’s entire enrichment program.
Ahmadinejad has said talks could resume in September, although Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday Iran would not talk with the United States unless sanctions and military threats were lifted.
In his interview with Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun, Ahmadinejad said Iran could stop 20 percent enrichment as part of a deal. Major powers have made clear they want Iran to halt such work as a pre-condition for any fuel exchange agreement.
"We promise to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent purity if we are ensured fuel supply," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying in the interview, published in Japanese.
But he rejected calls for Iran to stop all enrichment, something the U.N. Security Council has called for.
"We have a right to enrich uranium," he was quoted as saying. "We have never initiated war or wanted nuclear bombs."
That was reiterated by Iran’s nuclear chief who on Saturday will oversee the introduction of fuel rods into the country’s first nuclear power station at Bushehr on the Gulf coast.
Ali Akbar Salehi called the idea that Iran would suspend all enrichment "defective logic."
"Enrichment in Iran will continue to produce the fuel needed by Bushehr nuclear power plant and other plants to be built in the future in Iran," he told official news agency IRNA.
Experts say firing up the $1-billion Bushehr plant will not take Iran any closer to building a nuclear bomb as Russia will supply the enriched uranium for the reactor and take away spent fuel rods which could be used to make weapons-grade plutonium.
Salehi said Iran’s main enrichment plant at Natanz, once working at full capacity, could produce up to 30 tons of enriched uranium, only enough for one Bushehr-size plant. Iran has said it wants to build up to 20 nuclear power plants.
"With the assumption that we will receive (Bushehr’s) fuel for 10 years from the Russians, what are we going to do for the 30 to 50 remaining years?" he asked, adding that Iran was not obliged to buy nuclear fuel from the Russians.
Iran insists it is not seeking a bomb and that its interest in nuclear technology is purely for peaceful means, such as generating electricity and making medical treatments.
But Israel sees the potential of a nuclear armed Iran -- which refuses to recognize the Jewish state -- as a major threat and both it and its ally Washington do not rule out military action to prevent such a scenario.
Iran has said it will fiercely counter any strike and, in the latest demonstration of its military capacities, on Friday state TV broadcast the test-launch of a new ground-to-ground missile, the "Qiyam (Resurrection) -1."
Iran did not disclose the range of the missile, but Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi said it had "a range of new technical characteristics with high tactical capability."