Iran calls for broader nuclear negotiations

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator has called for more countries to join the three European states engaged in talks about Tehran’s contentious nuclear program.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator has called for more countries to join the three European states engaged in talks about Tehran’s contentious nuclear program.

Ali Larijani, secretary of the country’s Supreme National Security Council, said he welcomed negotiations with all members of the board of governors of the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency as well as non-aligned movement countries.

“There is a serious question in Iran that asks why nuclear negotiations should be limited to just three European countries,” state TV quoted Larijani as saying.

He did not single out any other countries to join France, Britain and Germany in talks aimed at offering Iran incentives to freeze parts of its nuclear program, but the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors includes the United States.

Iran has previously courted support for its nuclear program from various Arab countries including Yemen, which is both a member of the IAEA board and the Non Aligned Movement.

Larijani’s comments come the day after ultraconservative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said negotiations were still alive over Iran’s nuclear program, despite his recent criticism of international efforts to curb it.

Iran recently rejected an EU incentives package and reactivated uranium conversion at its Isfahan nuclear facility, a precursor to uranium enrichment.

Enrichment is a process Iran froze last November that can be used in the production of atomic bombs. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful, despite US claims to the contrary.

Ahmadinejad has also promised to offer new proposals for negotiations with the three European states over the nuclear program following the EU’s cancellation of an August 31 meeting because of the resumption of uranium conversion.

“We want to continue talks with all. We will continue dialogue,” Ahmadinejad said on state-run television, adding he had instructed the Supreme National Security Council, the country’s top security decision-making body, to draw up a new set of proposals over Iran’s enrichment program.

Ahmadinejad didn’t say if that included the United States, which Iran has so far seen no role for as long as Washington continues what Iran calls a hostile approach. President George Bush recently said “all options” were available to the US to deal with Iran in light of its resumption of nuclear activities.

But the Iranian leader’s remarks suggest he wants to launch a new dialogue in hopes of persuading Europe to recognise Iran’s right to enrich uranium.

France also has said continued talks were possible over the program, while the UN’s nuclear watchdog says its making progress in attempts to revisit a restricted Iranian military site that Washington says may be used for tests linked to nuclear weapons.

The optimistic signs come amid continuing concerns over Iran’s nuclear program and Tehran’s anger over international efforts to restrict its atomic activities, which it believes are guaranteed under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty which it is a party to.

Ahmadinejad received a boost yesterday when Parliament approved most of his hard-line nominees for key Cabinet posts, including the foreign and interior ministers. The new Cabinet’s make-up could mean a retrenching of hard-line positions on key issues such as the nuclear program, in turn making Iran more likely to see confrontation with the West.

Meanwhile, a diplomat close to the IAEA said recent signals from Tehran suggested that there may soon be an agreement on UN officials visiting a restricted Iranian military site where alleged experiments linked to nuclear weapons had taken place.

IAEA inspectors visited the site early this year and took environmental samples from some buildings to test US allegations Iran may be testing high-explosive components for nuclear weapons by using an inert core of depleted uranium as a dry run for a bomb that would use fissile material.

But Tehran turned down new requests by the agency to visit other parts of the site, arguing it was not bound under agreements with the agency to open Parchin or other facilities not clearly linked to Iran's nuclear program.

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