TEHRAN - Iran's foreign minister said on Tuesday it will never abandon its legal and obvious right to nuclear technology and will not curb uranium enrichment, despite talks the West hopes will lead to restraints on the program.
The talks in Vienna offer the first chance to build on tentative deals made in Geneva on October 1 to defuse a standoff over suspicions that Iran's uranium enrichment campaign is covertly intended to develop nuclear weapons.
The meetings with world powers and their behavior shows that Iran's right to have peaceful nuclear technology has been accepted by them. Iran will never abandon its legal and obvious right, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said.
Western diplomats said the Vienna talks aimed to flesh out details of an Iranian agreement in principle in Geneva to send low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for further processing, to replenish dwindling fuel stocks of a Tehran reactor that produces radio-isotopes for cancer care.
The meeting between Iran and Russia, France and the United States, hosted by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, began on Monday and had been set to resume at 0800 GMT on Tuesday, but was put off until 1430 GMT to allow a series of delegation consultations.
The holdup appeared to arise in part from a sudden Iranian refusal to deal directly with France. Iran said it did not want France to be part of the uranium supply plan, accusing it of reneging on contracts to deliver nuclear materials in the past.
A senior diplomat familiar with the talks said the parties were considering a face-saving compromise drafted by the U.N. nuclear watchdog under which Iran would sign a contract with Russia and Russia would sub-contract further work out to France.
French, U.S. and Russian delegations were seen circulating a draft document among themselves in the run-up to the next round of talks, which aimed to iron out technical and legal details.
The West hopes the step of farming out a large amount of Iran's low-enriched uranium (LEU) reserve for conversion as fuel for the medical isotope reactor will minimize the risk of Iran refining the material to high purity suitable for bombs.
Western diplomats say Tehran must ultimately curb the program to dispel fears of a growing LEU stockpile being further enriched, covertly, to produce nuclear weapons.
TALKS WON'T AFFECT ENRICHMENT, SAYS MOTTAKI
But Mottaki said Iran would not curtail enrichment, as demanded by the U.N. Security Council. Iran will continue its uranium enrichment. It is not linked to buying fuel from abroad, he told a Tehran news conference.
LEU is used as fuel for nuclear reactors, while a nuclear bomb requires highly enriched uranium. The West fears Iran's declared civilian nuclear energy program is a front to produce fissile material for atomic bombs. Iran denies this.
Iranian state television said on Monday Tehran would not deal directly with France. Mottaki said Iran did not need France for the fuel supply.
There are Russia, America...I believe these countries are enough. Not too many countries are needed to provide Iran with the fuel, he said. France, based on its shortcomings to fulfill its obligations in the past, is not a trustworthy party to provide fuel for Iran.
He said Iran saw serious developments in the Vienna talks which could lead to a deal over supplying Iran with the 20 percent enriched uranium.
What we want is our right based on the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It says the member countries should be supplied with nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes by those members that have the fuel.
Iran has been hit by three rounds of U.N. sanctions for refusing to halt enrichment-related work. It said on Monday it would not hesitate to produce higher enriched uranium on its territory if nuclear talks failed in Vienna.
Iran won a reprieve from harsher U.N. sanctions by agreeing on October 1 to inspections of a hidden nuclear site and to send low-enriched uranium abroad for further processing.
(Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall; Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Mark Heinrich; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)