Iran reiterated Tuesday that it was ready to reopen unconditional negotiations with Europeans over its controversial nuclear program, which Washington says is aimed at producing a nuclear bomb.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi also hinted that the uranium gas Iran has produced is low quality and needs purification before it can be injected into centrifuges to enrich uranium. Iran says it needs to enrich uranium to produce nuclear fuel for its future nuclear power plants.
Talks between Britain, Germany and France - which negotiated on behalf of the 25-nation European Union - and Iran collapsed in early August after Iran resumed uranium reprocessing activities at its Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan, in central Iran. Tehran had suspended uranium conversion work under a November 2004 deal with the European troika.
"Iran has no problem with resuming negotiations, but the Islamic Republic of Iran doesn't accept pressure and conditional talks," Asefi told a press conference.
Europeans have said in the past that negotiations would not resume unless Iran stops uranium reprocessing in Isfahan. Tehran says it will never again stop uranium conversion but is ready for dialogue.
Asefi said Europeans have been sending mixed signals about reopening nuclear talks.
"A number of European countries have expressed willingness in the past few days to join talks and help get out of the present situation. ... Instead of sending mixed signals, the EU should practically show it is interested in dialogue," he said.
Last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency passed a resolution warning Iran that it would be referred to the UN Security Council unless it allayed fears about its nuclear program. In response, Iran has threatened that unless the IAEA backs down, it will resume uranium enrichment, block short notice intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities and cut trade with countries that supported the resolution.
Uranium enrichment does not violate the terms of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which Iran is a signatory. But - with world suspicions high in the wake of 18 years of nuclear secrecy on the part of Tehran - key IAEA members, including the US and European nations, want Iran to permanently scrap enrichment plans as a confidence-building measure, something Tehran says it is not prepared to do.
Also Tuesday, Asefi hinted that production of low-quality uranium gas at early stages was natural for an indigenous program like the one pursued by Iran but said his country needs to encourage its scientists and complete its uranium enrichment program.
Iran has said in the past that it has already achieved proficiency in the whole nuclear fuel cycle - from extracting uranium ore to enriching it.
Diplomats accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed last week that tons of uranium gas Iran has produced since it resumed uranium conversion in August was contaminated and unusable as feedstock for enrichment.
"Initially, things are at the preliminary level, then, after duration of time, are completed. This is not an exception (in our case)," Asefi said when asked if Iranian uranium gas was of low quality.
An Iranian lawmaker said Tuesday that a private Iranian-foreign company has agreed to join Iran's uranium enrichment projects.
Ultraconservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad offered foreign countries and companies a role in Iran's nuclear program during a speech at the UN General Assembly in New York last month in an effort to reduce suspicions about Iran's intentions but Europeans have disregarded the offer.
Lawmaker Kamal Daneshyar said an Iranian-foreign company has agreed to carry out all nuclear fuel cycle work - from extracting uranium ore to enriching it, state-run radio reported Tuesday.
Daneshyar did not elaborate nor did he give the name of the company.