Iran seeks uranium-enrichment talks with Europe
TEHRAN, Iran – An increasingly defiant Iran called Sunday for Europe to open talks on Tehran’s intention to enrich uranium, and dismissed a veiled Bush administration warning of military action against Iranian nuclear operations as psychological warfare.
The new Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, named a hard-line Cabinet, a move that looked certain to intensify Iran’s confrontation with the West.
While Iran says it would use enriched uranium only to power nuclear reactors for generating electricity, Tehran’s past concealment of portions of its atomic program has created distrust in the West and strengthened suspicions in Washington that the material is meant for bombs.
The United States has stood aside while European governments negotiated with Iran. After prolonged talks with Britain, France and Germany during which Tehran put uranium conversion on hold, Iran this month rejected a package of aid measures, including offers of nuclear fuel in exchange for a promise to abandon plans for uranium enrichment.
Iran then restarted its Isfahan plant that converts uranium to gas, which is the last step in processing the radioactive ore before it can undergo enrichment to become reactor fuel or the material for nuclear weapons.
The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency responded with a resolution Thursday urging the Iranians to again put the process on hold. Diplomats familiar with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s proceedings said Iran was given a Sept. 3 deadline to halt or face possible referral to the U.N. Security Council for consideration of sanctions against its struggling economy.
Tehran hotly rejected the resolution and on Sunday said there was nothing more to talk about on the conversion issue.
“The Isfahan issue is over,” Mohammad Saeedi, the deputy head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told state television. “What is left on the table for discussion is Natanz,” where Iran has built a uranium enrichment plant.
“We definitely have plans for Natanz in the near future,” Saeedi said, without offering any details.
President Bush initially had said he was heartened by Iran’s hinted readiness for additional talks on its nuclear program even as it rejected the European aid offer. But Friday, after Iran became increasingly defiant, Bush said in an interview with Israeli TV that “all options are on the table” if Iran refused to comply with international demands. That prompted Asefi on Sunday to notch up the rhetoric, warning against any attack. “I think Bush should know that our options are more numerous than the U.S. options,” Asefi said. “If the United States makes such a big mistake, then Iran will definitely have more choices to defend itself.”
He offered no specifics but characterized Bush’s words as part of a U.S. psychological war against Iran.
Further complicating relations with the West, Iranian President Ahmadinejad picked 21 hard-liners to head government ministries. The parliament was expected to quickly approve the nominees, all followers of Iran’s conservative supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters.
About 300 Iranian students pelted the British embassy in Tehran with eggs, tomatoes and stones to protest Europe’s call for Iran to permanently freeze its nuclear program.
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