Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday that the Islamic Republic will never slow down its nuclear research program, urging his negotiators to remain stern when dealing with world powers over the country’s nuclear program.
“These negotiations should continue,” he told nuclear scientists in Tehran, the official IRNA news agency reported. “But all should know that negotiations will not stop or slow down any of Iran’s activities in nuclear research and development.”
“The country’s nuclear achievements can’t be stopped, and no one has the right to bargain over it,” he added.
Tehran denies suspicions that it is after nuclear weapons.
The negotiators from Iran and the so-called P5-plus-one - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - plan after their two days of talks in Vienna to start drafting the agreement to meet a self-imposed July 20 deadline, according to Reuters.
They will begin their next round of talks in the Austrian capital on May 13, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, coordinating the talks for the powers, told reporters while standing next to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif.
“A lot of intensive work will be required to overcome the differences,” she said. “We will now move to the next phase in the negotiations in which we will aim to bridge the gaps in all the key areas and work on the concrete elements of a possible comprehensive agreement.”
Zarif voiced optimism on the progress in sealing a nuclear deal with world powers.
He then told reporters that the two sides were in “50 to 60 percent agreement,” adding he expected an informal July deadline for a final deal to be met.
The world powers are offering to remove sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy provided Tehran agrees to strict long-term limits on any nuclear activities that could be used to make a weapon.
The future scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment program is the toughest issue.
Iran denies any interest in nuclear arms and argues it needs robust enrichment capacities to make low-enriched reactor fuel. The U.S., Britain, France and Germany want significant cuts, to decrease the chances that the program will be re-engineered to make high-enriched material for atomic arms. Russia and China are somewhere in the middle.
The six also want to eliminate potential proliferation dangers from an enrichment site at Fordo, south of Tehran, that is built far underground to withstand air strikes, and at a nearly built nuclear reactor at Arak, in northwestern Iran, that could produce substantial amounts of plutonium unless it is changed to a model with new specifications.
Like enriched uranium, plutonium can be used for the core of a nuclear weapon.
A first-step deal, in effect since January, has curbed some Iranian nuclear activities in return for limited sanctions relief as the two sides work toward a final agreement. Iranian hardliners fear that end deal will cut too deeply into their country’s nuclear program, a source of national pride.
In Tehran, Khamenei sought to dispel such fears.
“These talks need to continue,” he said. “But all must know that despite continuation of the talks, activities of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the field of nuclear research and development won’t be halted at all.”
(With Reuters and AP)SHOW MORE