TEHRAN, Dec 4 (AFP) – Iran will not submit to Western demands to limit its disputed nuclear fuel drive and is prepared to maintain a freeze on sensitive activities only for a few more months, top national security official Ali Larijani told AFP.
The Islamic republic’s top nuclear negotiator also asserted that Iran was powerful enough to dissuade its critics from considering military action, adding that the West would also suffer if the matter was referred to the UN Security Council.
"Iran does not want to make an atomic bomb. And those who dropped an atomic bomb on Japan are in no position to forbid us from having (civilian) nuclear technology," Larijani said in the interview.
"We will welcome any proposal that keeps to the following condition: enrichment must take place in Iran, because this is a right," said the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
Britain, France and Germany — backed by the United States — argue that the only guarantee Iran will not use its atomic energy drive as a means to acquire the bomb is for the country to totally abandon uranium enrichment activities.
Larijani said expert-level talks between the two sides aimed at exploring avenues for resuming negotiations, which had broken down in August, "will take place in two or three weeks".
The EU-3 want to raise a proposal from Moscow under which Iran’s uranium would be enriched only on Russian soil.
But Larijani said Iran, which has already spurned a "Libya-style deal" involving trade and diplomatic incentives, will not accept the kind of accord the West is now hoping for: "The negotiations will be about making nuclear fuel inside Iran. There is nothing else to talk about."
"We are a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency and accept the Non-Proliferation Treaty. We have commitments, which we meet, as well as rights: so there is no need to set discriminatory rules for us."
Iran has already ended a freeze on uranium conversion, which makes the gas fed into centrifuges in the enrichment process.
Larijani signalled that the country was now impatient to resume enrichment work itself, which makes reactor fuel but can also be extended to make the core of an atom bomb. He said this step could come "within a few months".
"It would not be very complicated to find a formula if both sides in the negotiations are serious," he said, but cautioned that centrifuge building and "research" were outside the scope of any future talks with the EU-3 and could therefore restart at any moment.
"This is not up for negotiation, and the when and hows of a resumption concern us alone. In our universities, we are conducting research," said Larijani, a hardliner close to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
"Does making centrifuges or conducting research mean you can make a bomb? No. You need to inject gas into them for this," he said, adding that Iran is "ready to give guarantees" that it will not make weapons-grade uranium.
In September the IAEA found Iran to be in "non-compliance" with the NPT and urged the country to return to a full fuel cycle freeze and cooperate more with UN inspectors. The EU and US are warning that the matter could soon end up at the Security Council.
"The Europeans should not threaten using the Security Council too much. The Iranian people are brave and do not fear such threats," Larijani responded calmly.
"This would be a lose-lose game, whereas we want win-win negotiations — where we master nuclear technology and the Europeans have their guarantees. The Europeans should know that if they send our case to the Security Council … we will have problems but they will not win."
Iran "would have no choice", he warned, except to retaliate against such a step by ending the nuclear suspension and tough IAEA inspections.
Speaking in his downtown Tehran office on Saturday, Larijani also shrugged off any threat of military action.
"High oil prices have a dissuasive effect. Iran is a difficult target, whereas Iraq was weakened by eight years of war and the attack on it after it invaded Kuwait. The Iraqi regime had a problem of legitimacy … and this is not the case for Iran," he asserted.
"The Americans are bogged down in Iraq," he added, asserting that an attack against Iran would be "a risk that no intelligent person or logical country would take."
As for a potential missile strike against Iran, he merely smiled and said Iran’s air defences "do not have many weaknesses".