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Iran's top nuclear negotiator said his country might eventually consider suspending uranium enrichment, but made clear that Teheran's right to the technology must be recognized, according to an interview released Saturday.
Iran rejects the West's insistence that it suspend enrichment as a condition for the resumption of talks on its nuclear program.
Negotiator Ali Larijani did not address that in an interview with the German weekly Focus, but was asked if a suspension was conceivable as an outcome of the negotiations.
"That is not completely ruled out," Larijani was quoted as saying. "However, we cannot be forbidden the possession of this technology."
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Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, has called for a "time out" both on enrichment and further UN sanctions against Iran.
Larijani said a "time out" would mean that "we maintain our current state of development; in other words, we leave uranium enrichment at the level it is at now," Focus reported.
"The problem is that we already have the know-how for uranium enrichment; so we cannot go backward at this point," he was quoted as saying. "It may be that the West does not like that. But that is how it is, and we must negotiate on this basis."
Asked whether Iran would be prepared to suspend enrichment in exchange for US security guarantees, Larijani replied that "we don't need any security guarantees on the part of the USA," Focus reported. "Iran has enough military capacity - without an atomic bomb."
Teheran insists it wants to develop an enrichment program to generate energy, but the US and some of its allies fear that Iran could misuse it to produce the fissile core of nuclear warheads.
In the Focus interview, Larijani sidestepped a question over IAEA assertions that Iran has slowed the installation of centrifuges used for enrichment.
"We do not play such little games," he said. "What counts is that Iran, as a reliable partner of the IAEA, keeps to the agreements of the Non-Proliferation Treaty."
Larijani also argued that "sanctions are certainly the wrong step; they just lead to more hostility between both sides."
He was quoted as saying that "if the (UN) Security Council takes an irrational decision against us, we will certainly react." He did not elaborate.