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Iran mining uranium ore ahead of new nuke talks
TEHRAN | Iran delivered a resolute message Sunday on the eve of talks with six world powers: We're mining our own uranium now, so forget about stopping our nuclear ambitions.
The Islamic republic said it has produced for enrichment its first batch of locally mined uranium ore concentrate, known as "yellowcake," making it independent of foreign countries for a process the West fears is geared toward producing nuclear arms.
No matter the U.N. sanctions over the program, "our nuclear activities will proceed, and they will witness greater achievements in the future," Iranian nuclear chief Ali Salehi told state-run Press TV.
Western officials downplayed the announcement, saying it had been expected and that Iran did not have enough ore to maintain the large-scale enrichment program that Tehran says it is building as a source of fuel for an envisaged network of nuclear reactors.
"Given that Iran's own supply of uranium is not enough for a peaceful nuclear-energy program, this calls into further question Iran's intentions and raises additional concerns at a time when Iran needs to address the concerns of the international community," said Mike Hammer, spokesman of the U.S. National Security Council.
Sunday's announcement makes clear that Iran does not consider uranium enrichment to be up for discussion at the talks beginning Monday in Geneva. Tehran is determined to expand the program instead of scrapping it, as the U.N. Security Council demands.
Expectations for the talks had been low even before the announcement, with Iran saying it is prepared to discuss nuclear issues only in the context of global disarmament. Officials from some of the six powers have said they would be pleased if negotiations yielded no more than agreement to meet at a later date to explore common themes.
The talks in Geneva — the first in more than a year — are meant to lay the cornerstone for establishing trust. Tehran says it does not want atomic arms, but as it builds on its capacity to potentially make such weapons, neither Israel nor the U.S. have ruled out military action if the Islamic republic fails to heed U.N. Security Council demands to freeze enrichment and other nuclear programs.
The talks are expected to take two days. Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, will meet with EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, with Ms. Ashton's office saying she will act "on behalf" of the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. In fact, senior officials for those six powers will attend and do much of the talking with Tehran.
Sunday's announcement burdened the pre-talk atmosphere, adding to tensions left by the assassination last week of a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist and the wounding of another.
Mr. Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and the country's vice president, said Iran had for the first time delivered domestically mined raw uranium to a processing facility — allowing it to bypass U.N. sanctions prohibiting import of the material. He said the yellowcake was produced at the Gachin uranium mine in southern Iran and delivered to the uranium-conversion facility in the central city of Isfahan for reprocessing.
Yellowcake is processed into uranium hexafluoride, which later can be turned into a gas used as feedstock for enriching uranium. Uranium enriched to low grades is used for fuel in nuclear reactors, but further enrichment makes it suitable for atomic bombs.
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