Iran has no interest in reviving a failed nuclear fuel-swap deal with Western powers, but it might scale back production of higher-grade enriched uranium once it has the material it needs, the head of the country’s atomic energy agency said.
US officials say that getting Iran to suspend high-level uranium enrichment and close an underground nuclear facility near the holy city of Qom are priorities for talks between Iran and world powers that are due to resume on Saturday.
Iranian media also quoted Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday as saying that Tehran would not agree to world powers imposing preconditions before the nuclear talks, which will resume in Istanbul after collapsing more than a year ago.
“Setting conditions before the meeting means drawing conclusions, which is completely meaningless and none of the parties will accept conditions set before the talks,” the Iranian parliamentary news agency quoted him as saying.
Iranian media on Monday quoted nuclear chief Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani as dismissing a revival of the swap deal – which collapsed in 2009 – to supply the Tehran research reactor with fuel enriched abroad for peaceful purposes.
“The Islamic Republic won’t turn back and has no interest in receiving 20 percent fuel from other countries because it has made an investment,” Abbasi-Davani said during a Sunday night television interview, the Iranian state news agency reported.
However, Abbasi-Davani raised the possibility of converting fuel back to 3.5% purity, the level of enrichment required for reactors producing nuclear power.
“Once the necessary fuel is obtained, we will scale back production and maybe even convert it to 3.5%,” he said.
This falls far short of Israeli demands for the talks.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has called for the removal of all enriched uranium, a halt to all further enrichment and the closure of the facility at Qom.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak took a slightly more lenient position, saying that while Iran should have to give up its entire stockpile of uranium enriched to 20%, believed to be about 120 kg., and transfer the majority of its 5 tons of 3.5% enriched uranium out of the country, it would be able to keep a minimum amount for energy purposes.
Barak also said Iran must open all of its nuclear facilities to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, disclose its entire history of activity relating to its nuclear weapons program and suspend all enrichment activity.
If Iran complied with these conditions, he said, it would be possible to agree to an arrangement whereby a third country would transfer fuel rods to Iran for the purpose of activating the Tehran research reactor.
Newly elected Kadima head Shaul Mofaz, meeting on Monday for the first time as opposition head with a visiting statesman – Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti – said the world powers entering into talks with Iran have to have one clear goal: stopping a nuclear Iran.
“Any other idea does nothing to ensure the security of the world and regional stability,” Mofaz said. “A nuclear Iran is a world danger, and its nuclear program is not for peace – that is the way it needs to be viewed, and no one should delude themselves.
“The only way to supervise the Iranian nuclear program is to bring it to an end. That is the Obama administration’s task and test.”
Trying to find a way to halt Iran’s highergrade uranium enrichment capability has become the focus for Washington and its allies, and the suggestion leaves questions over what would happen to Iran’s stockpile of 20% enriched uranium.
Iranian scientists began enriching uranium to 20% purity in early 2010 and now say they can produce the fuel plates required to feed the Tehran research reactor. Iran has repeatedly said it had no other choice after the 2009 swap deal failed to secure uranium to keep the reactor running.
It is unclear what Tehran would expect in return for scaling back its nuclear program, but its demands would undoubtedly revolve around the lifting of sanctions against its financial and energy industries, which have caused increasing financial hardship within the country.
On Sunday, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said during a meeting with Monti that the sanctions were bringing the Iranian economy to the “brink of collapse.” The impact on Iran’s economy is expected to get even worse during the next quarter, since a European embargo of Iranian oil is due to begin on July 1.
Meanwhile, crude oil prices slipped on Monday following news that the talks would resume between Iran and the P5+1 countries – the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany. Brent crude was down more than $1 a barrel to $122. The price of oil has climbed nearly $20 this year on worries that a standoff between Tehran and the West would escalate and disrupt oil exports from the Middle East.
“The talks are good news,” said Ken Hasegawa, a commodity derivatives manager at Newedge Brokerage in Tokyo. “They are going to ease some stress from the oil market but not enough to bring oil below its current trading range.”
The US navy on Monday dispatched the USS Enterprise, a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, to join the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Persian Gulf. The move marks the fourth time in the past decade that Washington has beefed up its military presence in the Gulf.
The Lincoln entered the Gulf late in January and has been stationed there ever since.