June 22, 2006

Iran could halt fuel work only after talks: negotiator

By Mark Heinrich

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran could stop enriching uranium at
best only as a result of negotiations with big powers, but not
as a precondition for such talks as they demand, a senior
Iranian official said on Thursday.

It appeared to be the first time Tehran had hinted at the
possibility of suspending nuclear fuel enrichment the West sees
as an atomic bomb risk. But the insistence that this could only
happen after negotiations was likely to be rejected by the
major powers.

Iran would never renounce its "legitimate right" to
civilian atomic energy under the nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty, said Javad Vaeedi, deputy head of Tehran's national
security council and of its nuclear negotiating team.

Vaeedi also said Iran was taking its time to reply to an
offer of economic incentives to halt nuclear work -- prompting
U.S. accusations of stalling -- in order "to maximize the
chances of success of this proposal."

"Iran considers a suspension of uranium enrichment not as a
precondition for talks, rather in the best case as a result of
talks," he said in a speech to a rightist political foundation
in Vienna, headquarters of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.

"Negotiations without preconditions are the only way to a
peaceful resolution of this crisis," he said. Vaeedi spoke in
Farsi and his remarks were translated into English and German.

Iran says it wants to enrich uranium only to the low level
needed to generate electricity.

Western powers suspect Iran seeks highly enriched uranium
for nuclear warheads and asks why it needs atomic energy when
it boasts the world's second largest oil and gas reserves.


Asked after his speech why Iranian President Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad had set an August 22 deadline for replying to the
offer, more than a month beyond that set by the six powers,
Vaeedi said Iran could not be rushed on such a complex matter.

"The EU countries know that this offer must be considered
by different elements in Iran with different points of view.
This careful study means we are maximizing the chances of
success of this proposal," he said during a question-and-answer

President Bush voiced skepticism at Tehran's target date,
saying during a Vienna visit on Wednesday that it "should not
take the Iranians that long to analyze what is a reasonable
deal. I said weeks, not months."

Tehran has said the package contains positive points but
also problematic "ambiguities" related to the demand for an
enrichment halt. It has hinted at a counter-proposal in the
offing but Vaeedi declined to answer questions about specifics.

He said preconditions would get the big powers nowhere.

"Negotiations cannot be based on 'take it or leave it'
approaches. Ultimatums have no place in talks," said Vaeedi.

"We are interested in finding a solution suitable to both
sides, and that means dispensing with threats," he said.

Vaeedi was alluding to warnings by the United States,
Britain, France and Germany of a resort to sanctions should
Tehran spurn the packet of trade and technology sweeteners.

Non-Western powers Russia and China oppose sanctions
options and their stance has figured in Iran's defiance of the

Vaeedi cast big power efforts to curtail its nuclear
program as a U.S.-engineered bid to stunt the economic
development of an arch-foe and dominate the Middle East.

"We cannot confine ourselves to limited resources of oil
and carbon fuel. Like the U.S. and Europe, Iran is entitled to
peaceful nuclear energy. Those who say we are better off not
having it seek to humiliate us and we will not be humiliated."

He said Iran could have no logical reasons for seeking a
nuclear arsenal because this would jeopardize its own security.

"If we were stupid enough to do so, the U.S. would put all
countries around us under its military umbrella, with nuclear
weapons on the border of Iran," Vaeedi said.

"Also, if we went after nuclear weapons, every country in
the region would go after them, which would not be in our
interest as a regional power."