Iran on Monday called on the West to look to lifting its sanctions if it wants to quickly resolve the showdown over Tehran's disputed nuclear activities, and hinted it could make concessions on uranium enrichment in return.
TEHRAN – Iran on Monday called on the West to look to lifting its sanctions if it wants to quickly resolve the showdown over Tehran's disputed nuclear activities, and hinted it could make concessions on uranium enrichment in return.
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi outlined that message in an interview with the news agency ISNA following milestone talks at the weekend in Istanbul between Iran and world powers.
Those talks, described by both sides as an encouraging revival of a process that had been moribund for 15 months, are now due to be developed in another, more substantive round on May 23 in Baghdad.
"If the West wants to build trust, it should begin with sanctions, because it can help speed up the talks reaching a solution," Salehi was quoted as saying.
"If goodwill (from the West) is present... we are ready to rapidly and easily, and even in the Baghdad meeting, resolve all issues" regarding Iran's nuclear programme, he said.
The foreign minister appeared to suggest that the level of enrichment could be up for discussion.
While Iran's negotiators will take the position in Baghdad that producing 20 per cent enriched uranium "is our right," Salehi said, if the world powers "guarantee they will provide us with fuel of various purities, it will change the perspective."
Under those conditions, Salehi added, "we can engage in the talks and negotiate on how to obtain uranium with different purity."
In a separate interview with state satellite channel Jam-e Jam, Salehi noted that "enrichment covers a wide range, from natural uranium to 100 per cent enrichment, so one can talk within this spectrum."
Iran currently enriches uranium to 3.5 per cent and to 20 per cent. The former it says is to power its Bushehr nuclear electricity plant and the latter it says is to generate medical isotopes in its Tehran research reactor.
Uranium has to be enriched to 90 per cent or above for use in an atomic bomb.
Salehi's comments could add impetus to the Baghdad round of talks, especially as the West has so far made no mention of previous demands that Iran halt all uranium enrichment – a demand also stated in UN Security Council resolutions.
However, the question of the West reducing its sanctions on Iran seemed remote at this point of the discussions.
The sanctions, sharply ramped up this year, target Iran's all-important oil export sector and are seen by many Western capitals as a key reason why Tehran was willing to resume its negotiations with the so-called P5+1 group comprising the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany.
By the beginning of July, the United States and the European Union are due to fully implement economic sanctions they have already started – unless some sort of breakthrough is made in the talks.
Russia's foreign ministry, however, said in a statement on Monday that Moscow does not back increasing "sanction pressure" on Tehran.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov "confirmed the unacceptability of the prospect of Tehran obtaining nuclear weapon potential," in a meeting with visiting Israeli National Security Council director Yaakov Amidror, it said.
But he slammed as "counterproductive and dangerous any attempts to use reports of Iran's nuclear technology progress to artificially whip up tensions around Iran and create an excuse for further build-up of sanction pressure."
US President Barack Obama said on Sunday that "so far at least we haven't given away anything – other than the opportunity for us to negotiate."
Speaking to reporters after an Americas summit in Colombia, Obama said: "The clock is ticking and I've been very clear to Iran and our negotiating partners that we're not going to have these talks just drag out in a stalling process."
The United States and many of its EU allies believe that Iran has been working towards developing a nuclear weapons capability – a suspicion given weight by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency.
But Iran insists that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful, and its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called the possession of atomic weapons "a great sin." – afp