IRAN yesterday said it would refuse to discuss a newly declared nuclear plant at forthcoming international talks and cautioned Western powers it could curb co-operation further if they repeated “past mistakes”.
An Iranian MP suggested parliament might seek withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if tomorrow’s Geneva talks with major powers fail and “if the Zionists and America continue their pressure on Iran” — a reference to policies including economic sanctions.
Washington has suggested possible new sanctions on banking and the oil and gas industry if Tehran fails to assuage Western fears it seeks nuclear weapons. US officials believe sanctions could now have more effect, playing on leadership divisions evident since a disputed presidential poll.
Comments by Western and Iranian officials suggested little optimism ahead of tomorrow’s rare meeting of the P5+1 — permanent UN Security Council members China, Britain, France, the United Sates and Russia, as well as Germany — with Iran.
“My expectation, or my hope, is that we will be able to get ... the guarantees from Tehran, that the programme in which they are engaged in is a peaceful programme,” EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters in Gothenburg, Sweden.
“I don’t think it will be easy to ask for, but we will continue to engage.”
Last week’s news of a second uranium enrichment plant, under construction south of Tehran, added urgency to the Geneva talks. Uranium in less refined form can be used for power generation but in a more highly refined state is used in nuclear bombs.
Statements from Tehran yesterday allowed some ambiguity on Iran’s readiness to talk.
“The site, we can call it a small Natanz site, is a way to show that Iran ... not even for a second will stop its nuclear activities,” Atomic Energy Organisation head Ali Akbar Salehi said, referring to its existing underground plant near the city of Natanz.
He described the new facility as a “contingency plant” in case the Natanz site was threatened by military action.
Washington has not ruled out military action if it believed Tehran was close to developing nuclear weapons but says it favours diplomatic action.
Salehi said Iran, which denies any plans for atomic weapons, would not discuss its basic right to develop nuclear energy.
“But we can discuss about disarmament, we can discuss about non-proliferation and other general issues,” he said. “The new site is part of our rights and there is no need to discuss.”
Iranian state Press TV quoted Salehi as saying on Monday Tehran was in contact with the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over a date for inspection of the plant.
Iran’s IRNA news agency quoted MP Mohammad Karamirad, a conservative and member of parliament’s foreign policy and national security commission, as saying Iran could close the door completely to co-operation with world nuclear authorities.
“If the Zionists and America continue their pressure on Iran and if the talks... do not reach a conclusion, then parliament will take a clear and transparent position, such as Iran’s withdrawal from the NPT,” he said.
Iranian missile tests on Sunday and Monday added to tension with Western powers, who fear a hardline leadership in the Islamic Republic could ultimately use a threat of nuclear attack to pursue its political ends in the Middle East and beyond.
Russia, though cautious on sanctions, has expressed concern about Iranian missile launches and about Tehran’s nuclear programme.
President Dmitry Medvedev has said “other means” could be employed if Geneva talks failed.
But Interfax news agency quoted a senior Russian diplomat as saying missile tests should not be used as an additional argument for imposing sanctions on Tehran.
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