TEHRAN (AP) — Iranian officials said Sunday the country made progress with world powers during “serious” talks over Tehran’s nuclear program, but they insisted the nation cannot be pushed to give up uranium enrichment as negotiations move into tougher ground over ways to ease Western concerns that Iran one day could develop atomic weapons.
The remarks on enrichment repeat past declarations on the country’s “right” to produce nuclear fuel, which is a key element of the talks over its scope. But Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his top envoys seek to assure hard-line critics that Iran will not make sweeping concessions in the negotiations, which ended without agreement in Geneva early Sunday and are scheduled to resume next week.
All sides proclaimed progress but noted obstacles, such as France’s worries over Iran‘s enrichment levels and a planned heavy water reactor that produces plutonium byproducts. On Saturday, Iranian state TV lashed out at the French position, calling the country Israel’s “representatives” at the talks.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a posting on his Facebook page Sunday, said there are “some problems” still to overcome, but he called the latest round of negotiations with the six-nation group — the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany — “serious but respectful.”
The West and its allies fear Iran‘s uranium enrichment labs could produce weapons-grade material one day. But, in an important shift, the U.S. and others no longer appear to demand a complete halt to enrichment and are concentrating on curbing the highest-level production, currently at 20 percent. Such material is needed for Iran‘s lone research reactor, which makes isotopes for medical treatments, but is only just several steps away from warhead level at more than 90 percent enrichment. Energy-producing reactors use uranium enriched at levels of about 3.5 percent.
Iran insists it does not seek nuclear weapons and says its reactors are only for electricity and medical applications.
In an address to parliament, Mr. Rouhani said uranium enrichment is a “red line” that cannot be crossed.
“Nuclear rights in the international framework, including uranium enrichment, on its soil” are not negotiable, Mr. Rouhani was quoted as saying by the semiofficial ISNA news agency. “For us, red lines are not crossable.”
Iran claims it cannot be forced to give up enrichment because it has signed a U.N. treaty governing the spread of nuclear technology. The pact allows for enrichment under U.N. monitoring.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has criticized what he considers readiness by the six powers to be too generous to Tehran for not enough in return. The U.S and others are considering easing economic sanctions in return for a possible suspension in 20 percent enrichment.
Speaking Sunday before a weekly Cabinet meeting, Mr. Netanyahu said he had spoken over the weekend with the leaders of the U.S, Russia, France, Britain and Germany, pressing them to not reach a hasty deal.
“I asked them to delay, and I’m glad they did. I do not fool myself — there will be an agreement. I hope it will not be an agreement at any price — a good one, not a bad one.” He said Israel would “do all we can to convince the powers and the world leaders to avoid a bad agreement.”
“We have told the other party that threats, sanctions, humiliation and discrimination will not lead to an answer,” Mr. Rouhani said.
In the latest Geneva rounds, which began Thursday, there were growing expectations of an accord. France, however, would not soften its concerns, claiming the deal offered didn’t go far enough to trim Iran‘s nuclear program.