Good cop, bad cop: Iran nuclear chief defiant on key demand

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Iran’s hardline nuclear chief vowed Tuesday that Iran would continue to produce 20% enriched uranium as long as it needs, in defiance of a key international demand in negotiations expected to resume in the coming weeks.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will not suspend 20 percent uranium enrichment because of the demands of others,” Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation (AEOI), was cited Tuesday by Iranian news agencies, Reuters reported.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran will produce 20 percent enriched uranium to meet its needs and for however long it is required,” he said.

Iran has said it needs to domestically enrich the 20% fuel to provide isotopes to treat Iranian cancer patients.

Abbasi’s comments came a day after Iran’s foreign minister struck a conciliatory tone, expressing optimism about prospects for progress at upcoming nuclear talks. “Both sides … have concluded that they have to exit the current impasse,” Salehi said Monday (Dec 17). “Iran wants its legitimate and legal right and no more.”

Diplomats are still uncertain when a new round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 will be held, though the working assumption is that it will come together next month. A spokesperson for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told Al-Monitor Tuesday they had still not heard back from Iran on dates they had proposed last week.

“We did make an offer with regard to venue and timing for another round, but we have yet to hear from the Iranians on this,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told journalists at a press conference Monday. “So really, the ball is in the Iranians’ court.”

Amid the uncertainty on the P5+1 track,  Iran expressed interest in moving forward with talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). A senior IAEA team visited Iran this month, pronouncing it a useful visit, and is due to return January 16th. Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday it is seeking a comprehensive agreement with the IAEA, that would resolve international concerns, and secure its long sought desire for international recognition of its right to enrich.

“We will take measures which can lead to easing the IAEA concerns and you will witness its details, if we reach a comprehensive agreement which recognizes our rights,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehman-Parast said in his weekly press conference in Tehran on Tuesday, Fars News reported.

“We are seeking to reach all-out agreements in our talks with the IAEA and our country’s nuclear rights should be completely recognized in such an agreement and we should be able to utilize the know-how which includes …the complete nuclear fuel cycle and enrichment for the development of the country and in line with peaceful purposes,” he said.

Asked if Iran is trying to back-burner the P5+1 in favor of moving ahead with the IAEA for now, a former senior Iran official said no.

“They want first P5+1 and then IAEA,” the former Iranian official told Al-Monitor by email Tuesday.

The United States has been consulting with its P5+1 partners about how to update a proposal presented to Iran last May aimed at stopping its 20% enrichment and shutting down the Fordow enrichment facility, built into a mountain near Qom.

Some analysts have proposed testing Iran’s intentions by offering to sell Iran the enriched uranium it needs for medical purposes, under IAEA supervision, in return for a halt in 20% enrichment.

(Photo: Iran’s Head of Atomic Energy Organization Fereydoon Abbasi-Davani reacts as he attends a news conference during the 56th IAEA General Conference at the UN headquarters in Vienna September 17, 2012.    REUTERS/Herwig Prammer.)