Iran’s envoy to the International International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the window for nuclear negotiations is still open — even as tensions rise over Iran’s decision to defy the world on uranium enrichment.
“If they (other countries) come to the conclusion that they had better have a cooperative environment or approach rather than the language of threat, and they are ready to come to the negotiating table, our proposal is still on the table,” Ali-Asghar Soltanieh told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour Monday.
But the new enrichment program at the Natanz plant would begin Tuesday, he said.
“As (of) tomorrow, the steps will start in fact under the full scope, safeguards, and the supervision of the (IAEA) inspectors.”
Hours earlier, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Iranwill begin enriching uranium up to 20 percent, compared to 3.5 percent now. The U.S. National Research Council says such a step is the threshold for uranium capable of setting off a nuclear reaction. The U.S. and other countries immediately condemned Iran’s announcement, saying it means sanctions against Tehran are much more likely.
Many world powers say Iran is on a path towards making nuclear weapons. Iran, though, insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. Tehran has defied repeated United Nations resolutions and three rounds of previous sanctions designed to persuade it to freeze uranium enrichment.
Last October, the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany gave Iran a deadline of January this year to accept a deal on sending some low-level uranium out of the country for enrichment. Tehran did not accept that deal and instead made a counter offer, details of which have not been disclosed. In the past, the Iranians have signaled concerns about whether any fuel they send out of the country would ever be returned.
Soltanieh said Iran had decided to advance its enrichment program because it had been waiting months for international action.
“For nine months, we have hesitated to do so because we wanted to give the opportunity for the others. We think the framework of the IAEA (is) to have some sort of international cooperation to open a new chapter of cooperation, rather than confrontation.”
He said Iran will produce enough nuclear fuel for Tehran’s research reactor, which he said is roughly about 116 or 120 kilograms.
Iran said the research reactor will produce medical isotopes. Until now, only a few countries were known to have the technology for such work.
Soltanieh insisted Iran does have the expertise to move forward with its nuclear program, despite skepticism about its technical capabilities from other countries.
“We have in fact the infrastructure and the technology know-how. We have already been able to manufacture the fuel rods,” he added.
“Of course, it is the first experience… but we have proved that we will be able to do it. And this is, in fact, the confidence that Iranian scientists have got.”