Iran has ‘undeniable right’ to pursue peaceful nuclear program, says official

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili says Tehran has a right to develop a peaceful nuclear program. (Reuters)

Iran has the “undeniable right” to uranium enrichment, Tehran’s chief negotiator at talks in Baghdad with world powers, Saeed Jalili, told reporters on Thursday.

Peaceful nuclear energy and uranium enrichment is our “absolute right,” Jalili told a news conference.

“Of the main topics in using peaceful nuclear, energy is the topic of having the nuclear fuel cycle and enrichment. We emphasize this right.

“This is an undeniable right of the Iranian nation ... especially the right to enrich uranium,” Saeed Jalili said during a televised news conference after talks ended.

Enrichment can be used for peaceful purposes but also to build a nuclear weapon, which has sparked international concern over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“Significant” differences remain between Iran and six world powers − Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany − after two days of talks but there is also common ground, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Thursday.

“It is clear that we both want to make progress, and that there is some common ground. However, significant differences remain,” Ashton told a news conference after the two sides agreed to meet again in Moscow on June 18-19.

Ashton spoke after two days of discussions in the Iraqi capital between envoys from Iran and six leading powers to try to defuse Western fears of a covert Iranian effort to develop nuclear bombs.

Iran indicated at the talks in Baghdad it is prepared to address the sensitive issue of getting Tehran to halt its enrichment of uranium to a fissile concentration of 20 percent -- which it started in 2010 and has since sharply expanded -- was a key priority for world powers

“Iran declared its readiness to address the issue of 20-percent enrichment and came with its own five-point plan, including their assertion that we recognize their right to enrichment.”

The lower-grade uranium is the usual level required for nuclear power plants. Iran says it is producing 20 percent uranium to make fuel for a medical research reactor.

Tough talks aimed at helping resolve the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program entered an unscheduled second day earlier on Thursday with world powers and Tehran seemingly wildly at odds, as a U.N. watchdog report is expected to show that Iran has installed more uranium enrichment centrifuges at an underground site.

“They are positive but this is not our position. We need to find a common base in order to continue the negotiations,” an official with the Iranian delegation at the talks in Baghdad told AFP early on Thursday.

He added that the meeting could wrap up quickly, with the Chinese and Russian delegations keen to leave around that time.

On Wednesday, the P5+1 powers put a new package of proposals on the table that appeared to horrify the Iranians.

The official with the Iranian delegation, who wished to remain anonymous, called for the P5+1 to “revise” the offer, even saying that common ground was “not yet sufficient for another round” of talks after Baghdad.

Reflecting official thinking, Iranian state media, including the Islamic Republic News Agency, all called the proposals “outdated, not comprehensive and unbalanced.”

U.S. sanctions to linger

The United States will not ease sanctions on Iran before a third round of talks between major powers and Iranian officials about Tehran’s nuclear program, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Thursday.

“As we lay the groundwork for these talks, we will keep up the pressure as part of our dual-track approach. All of our sanctions will remain in place and continue to move forward during this period,” she told reporters in Washington hours after talks between Iran and world powers concluded in Baghdad.

“There are clearly gaps on what each side sees as possible and, you know, we think that the choice is now Iran’s to work to close the gaps,” Clinton said. “It’s very clear that there is a lot of work still to do.

“And yet, at the same time, I have to say that this is the second of two serious meetings after a gap of at least 15 months where there was no contact and no discussion about any of these matters,” she added.

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