By Sean Maguire and David Schlesinger
TEHRAN – Iran wants international help to broaden its uranium enrichment programme to an industrial scale but if assistance is not forthcoming it will forge ahead with the work, which it insists is peaceful.
r Iranian nuclear official, Ali Hosseinitash, told Reuters on Thursday Iran’s current focus was perfecting its small-scale research and development enrichment programme despite U.N. Security Council calls for it to be halted.
“Ending the dispute is valuable for everybody. But nuclear activities and capabilities are also valuable to us,” said Hosseinitash, head of strategic affairs at the Supreme National Security Council, which is in charge of Iran’s nuclear diplomacy.
“We will do our utmost (to reach an understanding) but if our attempts fail we will not stop our work,” he said, referring to the large-scale enrichment that could either power a nuclear plant or produce fissile material for an atomic weapon.
Iran is slowly building its first nuclear reactor in the southern port city of Bushehr with Russian help. It often says it wants foreign cooperation in its nuclear plans but the row over the programme’s real nature has deterred all others.
Hosseinitash repeated Iran’s insistence it wants atomic expertise for power production and national pride, not to build nuclear arms.
Western nations say Iran secretly wants it for military purposes, which Washington says must not be allowed to happen.
While speaking of a desire for compromise and understanding, Hosseinitash’s bottom line that Iran will keep and expand an indigenous enrichment programme will add to foreign alarm that has already seen Iran referred to the UN Security Council.
Britain, Germany and France are now working on incentives for Iran, including an offer of a light-water nuclear reactor, the type that is less easy to divert to military uses. Hosseinitash said the offer would be “a positive step.”
But Tehran would not give up enrichment in exchange as the European Union trio want. “I think this would be unsuccessful behaviour,” he said.
The United States wants Iran to face United Nations sanctions if it rejects the EU offer. Iran has scorned talk of punishment and Hosseinitash said a heavy price would be paid by anyone imposing sanctions or using force against Tehran.
“They are well aware of the consequences,” he said, reflecting the confidence felt by Tehran that Russian and Chinese opposition to UN sanctions and Iran’s importance as an oil exporter will blunt harsh action against it.
Despite tough language from Iran’s populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who on Wednesday derided the EU’s putative offer of incentives as “candy for gold”, Iran’s top officials have always expressed a willingness to discuss their position.
Hosseinitash said Iran would welcome exploratory talks with the EU and the United States as a way of building confidence.
Western powers have grown exasperated that past talks have not been substantive and accuse Tehran of time-wasting.
Iran has been under intense international scrutiny since 2002 when a secret nuclear programme was exposed.
The U.N.’s atomic watchdog has never found hard proof of any nuclear weapons’ project but says after more than three years of probing it cannot confirm the work is purely peaceful.
Iran announced with fanfare in April it had enriched uranium in small quantities to the level used in nuclear power stations, heightening suspicion over its real intentions.
“The worry is baseless because Iran is not aiming towards getting a nuclear weapon,” said Hosseinitash. — Reuter