December 11, 2013
Iran rejects West's demand to ship out uranium stockpiles
Iran has rejected the West's demand that it send sensitive nuclear material out of the country but signalled flexibility on other aspects of its atomic activities that worry world powers, ahead of renewed negotiations this week.
Talks about Iran's nuclear programme, due to start in Geneva on Tuesday, will be the first since the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who has tried to improve relations with the West to pave the way for lifting economic sanctions.
Rouhani's election in June to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has raised hopes of a negotiated solution to a decade-old dispute over Iran's nuclear programme that could otherwise trigger a new war in the volatile Middle East.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi's comments may disappoint Western officials, who want Iran to ship out uranium enriched to a fissile concentration of 20 percent, a short technical step away from weapons-grade material.
However, Araqchi, who will join the talks in Switzerland, was less hardline about other areas of uranium enrichment, which Tehran says is for peaceful nuclear fuel purposes but the West fears may be aimed at developing nuclear weapons capability.
"Of course we will negotiate regarding the form, amount, and various levels of (uranium) enrichment, but the shipping of materials out of the country is our red line," he was quoted as saying on state television's website.
In negotiations since early 2012, world powers have demanded that Iran suspend 20-percent enrichment, send some of its existing uranium stockpiles abroad and shutter the Fordow underground site, where most higher-grade enrichment is done.
In return, they offered to lift sanctions on trade in gold, precious metals and petrochemicals but Iran, which wants oil and banking restrictions to be removed, has dismissed that offer. It says it needs 20-percent uranium for a medical research reactor.