By Ali Akbar Dareini TEHRAN, Iran, AP
Iran’s foreign minister reiterated Tuesday that his country would never again suspend uranium enrichment — a move the United States insists on for any negotiations with Tehran.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki spoke a day after the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany began talks on applying further sanctions against Iran for its refusal to suspend enrichment.
“Demands that Iran halt enrichment are illegal and illegitimate and based on an incorrect political strategy. This (suspension) will never materialize,” Mottaki told a conference in the capital Tehran.
However, Iran is prepared to negotiate about its nuclear program “without any preconditions,” he said.
Iran suspended enrichment activities in 2003 as a goodwill gesture toward negotiations with Britain, France and Germany, but it resumed the process in January 2006 when it concluded that the talks were leading nowhere.
Enriched uranium is used to fuel nuclear reactors but uranium enriched to a high degree is used to make atomic bombs.
The United States and some of its allies object to Iran’s enrichment process because they believe it is secretly trying to build nuclear weapons.
Iran denies this, saying its enrichment is solely so that it can be self-sufficient in fuel for nuclear power plants.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Tuesday that Iran is making a big miscalculation by refusing to suspend enrichment.
“I think the comments from Iran are very worrying … because yet again they’re indicating they want to defy the international community,” he said at his monthly news conference. “I think we’ve got therefore to consider what more measures we take which we are now doing with our partners.”
Blair refused to speculate on possible military options, saying only that people wanted a diplomatic solution. “We’re perfectly happy to talk to them,” he added. “The question is what is the conversation about, given that they are saying they are not going to suspend enrichment.”
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reiterated this weekend that she would negotiate with Mottaki as soon as Iran had suspended enrichment.
But Washington’s making suspension a precondition for talks was criticized by two opinion-makers at a conference on international security in New York on Monday.
Former chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix said the U.S. condition for negotiations was “humiliating” for Iran.
“This is in a way like telling a child, first you will behave and thereafter you will be given your rewards,” Blix said.