TEHRAN — Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 20 percent “is our right” and “is not a step towards a bomb,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday in an interview with the satellite television network France 24.
The enrichment activity, which world powers are trying to curb in fraught talks with Iran, “is one of our rights in terms of international law,” Ahmadinejad said.
“There have been lies about our programme… Enriching uranium to 20 percent is not a step towards a bomb,” he said, speaking Farsi through translators.
Ahmadinejad added that the heads of the UN nuclear watchdog should make world powers “provide us with uranium at a 20 percent enrichment level, but so far they have not done so.”
As a result, he said, Iran “decided to move forward on our own” with enrichment.
His remark in Farsi on Iran being supplied with 20 percent enriched uranium was rendered differently when translated into English for the channel.
Ahmadinejad hinted, however, that Iran could be open to stopping 20 percent enrichment — if world powers offered significant concessions.
“If others do not wish for us to fully benefit from this right, they need to explain to us why. And also they have to say what they are willing to give to the Iranian people in exchange.”
The UN Security Council has issued six resolutions demanding Iran suspend all uranium enrichment. It has also imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran, which Western powers have hardened with their own harsh economic sanctions.
The five permanent UN Security Council member nations plus Germany — the so-called P5+1 group — are especially intent on getting Iran to stop enrichment to 20 percent as it is just a few technical steps short of bomb-grade 90-percent uranium.
The West suspects Tehran is developing nuclear weapon capability.
Iran, which insists its nuclear programme is peaceful, enriches uranium to 3.5 percent for its Bushehr atomic energy plant in the south of the country, and says it needs 20 percent uranium to create medical isotopes in its Tehran research reactor.
“Why should the 20 percent enrichment create doubt? The Western powers have nuclear bombs. Should we trust them? Which is more dangerous: an atomic bomb or the 20 percent (enrichment)?” Ahmadinejad asked.
The 20 percent enrichment issue is at the heart of the talks with the P5+1 that are to resume June 18-19 in Moscow.
Ahmadinejad said that, as much as Iran would like to see the nuclear dispute resolved, “we do not expect to see a miracle” in Moscow.
“We have solid proposals that will be presented at the right time,” he said. “Iran deserves a change in behaviour (by the West). The language used against us is not the right language to use.”
The last round of talks, in Baghdad last week, nearly collapsed as it became clear that there was a gulf between the two sides.
While Ahmadinejad often asserts Iran’s position in the nuclear dispute, all decisions on the matter are ultimately up to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has in recent years put limits on the president’s authority.
Khamenei will on Sunday commemorate the death of the Islamic republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, with a closely watched speech that could give insight into his view on the developing showdown between Iran and the West.
The United States and its ally Israel — the sole, if undeclared, nuclear weapons power in the Middle East — have warned that military action against Iran was an option if diplomacy fails.
“Why does no one in the Western governments protest when they (Israel) threaten us?” Ahmadinejad protested in the interview.
“We are not afraid of their threats. The Iranian people have shown they know how to deal with such situations,” he said.