Iran signals to press on with nuclear program
By Mark Heinrich
VIENNA (Reuters) – A senior Iranian nuclear official
signaled Tehran’s determination on Friday to press on with its
nuclear work, despite facing what Washington called a “moment
of truth” over a program that could produce atomic weapons.
The remarks by Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran’s
Atomic Energy Organization, suggested Tehran may have already
decided to reject offers of incentives and negotiations from
six of the world’s top powers in return for ending atomic fuel
“Iran is determined to go ahead with its nuclear enrichment
work for peaceful purposes,” Saeedi told Iran’s students news
agency ISNA. “The Iranian nation will not let us give it up.”
Decision-making in Iran is complicated by a complex
political structure with ultimate power resting in the hands of
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. U.S. officials have
indicated they would wait for a formal communication from
Tehran before responding.
Iran says it wants to enrich uranium only to the level
required for use in atomic power reactors and has no interest
in making highly-enriched uranium, a key ingredient in bombs.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a series of
interviews with U.S. television and radio networks, said Iran
had a “matter of weeks,” not months, to deliver a definitive
response to the package agreed on by the five permanent members
of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany in Vienna on
Iran is facing a “moment of truth,” she told CBS
“They need to make a choice. The international community
needs to know if negotiation is a real option,” Rice told CNN.
Russia and China, who do not believe Iran poses an imminent
threat, have been most opposed to threatening Iran with
sanctions if it defies such demands.
But Rice told CNN Television: “Russia and China have signed
on to the two paths.”
She also said that both paths agreed on Thursday night —
one leading Iran to international integration with incentives
and another path toward isolation through various disincentives
– were “quite robust.”
But Western officials would not say if the package
specified what sanctions Iran would face for further defiance,
and Russia said no military action — mooted by Washington as a
last-resort option — was on the table now.
“I can say unambiguously that all the agreements from
yesterday’s meetings rule out in any circumstances the use of
military force,” Lavrov was quoted by RIA news agency as saying
on his return to Moscow from Thursday’s Vienna meeting.
If Iran rebuffed the incentives, Lavrov said the big powers
would return to discussing a Council resolution ordering Tehran
to stop enriching uranium. But he said this resolution would
not mention sanctions, contrary to Western wishes.
A European Union diplomat said EU foreign policy chief
Javier Solana was on standby to present the offer to Iran,
probably within days.
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett touted the
package as “far-reaching and said it gave Iran a chance to
“reach a negotiated agreement based on cooperation.”
She said it included an offer to remove Iran’s case from
the Council agenda if Tehran shelved uranium enrichment.
No other details would be given, she said, until Iran was
presented with the package and had time to consider it.
Diplomats said earlier the incentives would encompass a
light-water nuclear reactor and an assured foreign supply of
atomic fuel so Iran would not need to enrich uranium itself,
thereby mastering technology with weapons applications.
They had said sanctions could entail visa bans and a freeze
on assets of Iranian officials before resort to trade measures.
Iranian officials had said in advance they would never
barter away the Islamic state’s drive to enrich uranium,
likening the proposal as akin to exchanging “candies for gold.”
John Negroponte, U.S. director of National Intelligence,
said Iran could have a nuclear weapon by 2010, “a cause of
great concern.” His comments echoed previous estimates by arms
experts that Iran is between 3 and 10 years away from nuclear
Tehran said in April it had produced its first batch of
low-enriched uranium suitable to fuel atomic power plants. But
arms experts say it faces trouble perfecting the means to make
significant amounts of highly-enriched bomb-grade uranium.
(additional reporting by Carol Giacomo in Vienna, Parisa
Hafezi and Edmund Blair in Tehran, Paul Majendie in London,
Richard Balmforth in Moscow)