Defiant Iran spurns US offer, announces uranium finds

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DUBAI – A day after US reiterated offer to hold direct talks with Tehran, Iran said on Saturday it had found significant new deposits of raw uranium and identified sites for 16 more nuclear power stations.

IRNA quoted a report by the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) which said the reserves were discovered in northern and southern coastal areas and had trebled the amount outlined in previous estimates.

 With few uranium mines of its own, Western experts had previously thought that Iran might be close to exhausting its supply of raw uranium.

“We have discovered new sources of uranium in the country and we will put them to use in the near future,” Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, head of the AEOI, was quoted as saying at Iran’s annual nuclear industry conference.

The timing of the announcement suggested Iran, by talking up its reserves and nuclear ambitions, may hope to strengthen its negotiating hand at talks in Kazakhstan on Tuesday with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

Diplomats say the six powers, known as the P5+1, are set to offer Iran some relief from international sanctions if it agrees to curb its production of higher-grade enriched uranium.

The West says Iran’s enrichment of uranium to a fissile purity of 20 percent demonstrates its intent to develop a nuclear weapons capability, an allegation the Islamic republic denies.

Iran’s reserves of raw uranium now stood at around 4,400 tonnes, taking into account discoveries over the past 18 months, IRNA quoted the report as saying.

In another sign that Iran is intent on pushing forward with its nuclear ambitions, the report also said 16 sites had been identified for the construction of nuclear power stations.

It did not specify the exact locations but said they included coastal areas of the Gulf, Sea of Oman, Khuzestan province and the Caspian Sea.

The announcements could further complicate the search for a breakthrough in Kazakhstan, after three unsuccessful rounds of talks between the two sides in 2012.

“We are meeting all of our obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and we should be able to benefit from our rights. We don’t accept more responsibilities and less rights,” Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, was quoted as telling Saturday’s conference.

In what Washington has called a provocative move, Iran is also installing new-generation centrifuges, capable of producing enriched uranium much faster, at a site in Natanz in the centre of the country.

Western diplomats say the P5+1 will reiterate demands for the suspension of uranium enrichment to a purity of 20 percent, the closure of Iran’s Fordow enrichment plant, increased access for International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and agreement to address concerns on existing uranium stockpiles.

In return, the latest embargoes on gold and metals trading with Iran would be lifted. Iran has criticized the offer and says its rights need to be fully recognized.

US repeats offer of talks

US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland meanwhile reiterated Washington’s offer to hold direct talks with Tehran.

“We have said from the beginning of this, in 2009, that we would be open if the Iranians wanted to, in the context of being together for the P5+1 (permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany), to meet bilaterally with the Iranian side,” Nuland said at a Friday news briefing, adding, “We will renew the offer this time.” 

On February 7, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said, “Negotiation is meaningful when the two sides talk with goodwill, under equal conditions and without seeking to deceive each other. Therefore, ‘negotiation for the sake of negotiation’, ‘tactical negotiation’ and negotiation offer in order to sell a superpower’s gesture to the world is a deceptive move.” Agencies

 

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