October 20, 2009 in Nation/World

As talks begin, Iran threatens to retaliate

Jeffrey Fleishman Los Angeles Times

CAIRO – Iran threatened to accelerate its uranium enrichment capabilities if talks with world powers that began Monday in Vienna don’t reach a compromise on an international plan to provide materials for Iran’s nuclear program.

Negotiators from the United States and its European allies are seeking a deal that would allow Russia to enrich uranium as much as 20 percent to fuel an Iranian medical research reactor to produce isotopes for treating cancer. The agreement would ease Western concern over Iran developing the ability to raise its own enrichment levels, which the U.S. says could move Iran closer to building a nuclear weapon.

Iran has indicated it would allow another country to enrich a portion of its uranium, but officials announced hours before the Vienna gathering that it would step up its enrichment capacity if the talks failed. Iranian officials say their nuclear program is for civilian power and medical research. They have expressed irritation over international pressure and have been both hard-edged and conciliatory in efforts to avoid new economic sanctions.

The talks opened with new acrimony as Iran threatened to “retaliate” against the U.S. and Britain after Sunday’s suicide bombing in southeastern Iran that killed six commanders in the Revolutionary Guard. The Sunni Muslim militant group Jundallah claimed responsibility for the attack, which also killed 36 other people. Iran maintains the organization has “direct ties” to U.S., British and Pakistani intelligence services. All three countries have denied the accusations.

“If the Vienna talks fail to satisfy Iran, a letter will be written to the International Atomic Energy Agency to announce that Iran will take the necessary action to supply nuclear fuel to the Tehran reactor,” Ali Shirzadian, spokesman for Iran’s nuclear agency, told reporters. “Iran can enrich uranium at 20 percent, and it will do so, if needed, to provide fuel for the reactor.”

Delegations from the United States, France, Russia and the International Atomic Energy Agency met with Iranian officials and will resume talks today. The plan under negotiation is for Russia to import Iran’s stockpile of 3.5 percent-enriched uranium. It would enrich the uranium to 20 percent, ship it to France to be turned into fuel rods, which would be sent to Iran for use in the medical reactor.

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