NUCLEAR TALKS

Iran vows to increase uranium enrichment if talks fail

Iran has warned that it will produce more enriched uranium if the latest talks between Iranian, US, Russian and French delegations in Vienna fail to yield a deal acceptable to Tehran.

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REUTERS - Iran will not hesitate to make more-highly-enriched uranium itself if there is no deal at talks with major powers starting in Vienna on Monday, an Iranian official said.

The talks with the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, Russia, France and the United States offered the first chance to build on proposals for defusing tensions over Iran's nuclear activity that were raised at a high-level meeting in Geneva on Oct. 1.

But Iran struck a defiant tone hours ahead of the latest talks, due to begin at 1300 GMT.

Nuclear energy agency spokesman Ali Shirzadian said it was not "economically feasible" for Iran to further purify low enriched uranium (LEU) itself to yield the 150-300 kg of material that it needs for the reactor, but that it would do so if the Vienna talks "do not bring about Iran's desired result".

Iran won a reprieve from harsher U.N. sanctions by agreeing on Oct. 1 to inspections of a hidden nuclear site and, in principle, to send low-enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment into fuel for a Tehran reactor that makes cancer-care isotopes.

But it sent only a junior-level technical delegation to the Vienna talks, not its nuclear energy chief, indicating it may may not be ready for a final agreement this week.

"The talks this week are supposed to seal the deal," said a senior Western diplomat, who requested anonymity due to political sensitivities.

"But, since we have had no negotiations thus far with the Iranians, the next couple of days could reopen a lot of what we hoped was already agreed in principle."

Allegations over bombing

The talks may also be clouded by Iranian allegations that the United States and Britain backed militants who killed 42 people including six senior Revolutionary Guards commanders in a suicide bombing on Sunday.

Shirzadian told the official IRNA news agency that providing fuel for the Tehran reactor was "a good test to see whether the West is honest with Iran".

And he said Iran's programme to produce 5-percent LEU would continue, whatever the outcome.

"We will never abandon our right (to enrich)," he said.

Western diplomats say Tehran must ultimately curb the programme to dispel fears of a growing LEU stockpile being highly enriched to produce nuclear weapons.

LEU is used as fuel for nuclear reactors, while a nuclear bomb requires highly enriched uranium.

The West fears Iran's nuclear programme is a front to obtain a bomb. Iran says it needs nuclear technology to generate power.

The Vienna talks were likely to run 2-3 days and intended to finalise technical and legal aspects of the uranium proposal.

Western diplomats said Iran had signalled in Geneva that it was ready to ship about three-quarters of its declared stockpile of 5-percent-enriched uranium to Russia for refinement to 19.7 percent purity, then to France for fabrication into fuel rods.

The material would replace the dwindling reactor fuel with material in a form that is resistant to higher enrichment.

For the powers, the deal's payoff lies in greatly reducing Iran's LEU reserve.

The stockpile has no apparent civilian use since Iran has no operating nuclear power plants, but is now enough to fuel one atomic bomb, if Tehran chose to enrich it to 90 percent.

Western officials expect the deal to entail Iran sending out 1.2 tonnes of its LEU in one consignment before the end of 2009.

 

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