Iran nuclear chief: We’ll enrich as and when we want to

Ali Akbar Salehi says Tehran won’t accept foreign dictates on its uranium enrichment program

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Iranian nuclear head Ali Akbar Salehi speaks to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York in October 2012. (photo credit: CFR screenshot)
Iranian nuclear head Ali Akbar Salehi speaks to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York in October 2012. (photo credit: CFR screenshot)

Iran will determine its needs regarding uranium enrichment on its own, the country’s nuclear chief said Tuesday, and will not accept foreign powers dictating its enrichment policy.

“As I’ve said many times before, the right of enrichment has been recognized and we don’t need them to recognize this right,” said Ali Akbar Salehi in an interview with the semi-official Fars news agency.

“This is a right enshrined in the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but they have also come to acknowledge this right in a de facto and practical way, and Ms. Sherman also stated it explicitly on Saturday,” he added, referring to US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman. Sherman was in Israel at the weekend, updating Israeli leaders on the progress of negotiations with Iran.

To Israel’s publicly expressed dismay, US President Barack Obama said in December he could envisage a permanent accord under which Iran would retain a limited enrichment capacity. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, by contrast, has said Iran’s entire “military nuclear” capacity must be dismantled. “Zero enrichment, zero centrifuge, zero plutonium, none of this is necessary” for civilian use of nuclear energy, Netanyahu said at a press conference Tuesday with German’s visiting Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, emphasized that Tehran could resume enriching beyond 5% if other countries don’t provide it with uranium enriched beyond that point.

“We have voluntarily accepted to restrict our right of enrichment to 5% and this doesn’t mean that if we need enrichment over the 5% grade, we won’t do it.”

Iran and the six world powers known as P5+1 struck a historic interim deal in November under which Tehran agreed to curb or freeze parts of its controversial nuclear program in return for limited sanctions relief. The agreement came into effect January 20.

Nuclear talks resumed in Vienna last week with all sides agreeing on a framework and timetable to negotiate a lasting accord that has been sought for over a decade.

Wendy Sherman (photo credit: CC-BY dbking, Flickr)
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (photo credit: CC-BY/dbking/Flickr)

Such an agreement could allay Western suspicions that Iran’s nuclear drive masks military objectives — despite Tehran’s repeated denials — and remove economic sanctions on the Islamic republic.

Negotiators hope to reach a final accord by July 20, when the interim agreement reached is set to expire.

Political directors from the P5+1 group of world powers — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia plus Germany — are set to resume the talks with Iranian nuclear negotiators on March 17 in Vienna.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, lead negotiator for the P5+1, will visit Tehran on March 9 and 10, an EU official said.

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