Julian Borger The Guardian
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Tehran's ambassador to the IAEA, says time is running out for it to export enriched uranium
Iran warned that international talks planned for next week in Istanbul could be the west's "last chance" to negotiate a deal over Tehran's stockpile of enriched uranium.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the country's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Iran's progress in enriching uranium, and its plans to make its own fuel rods for a reactor, meant it might lose interest in negotiations if next Friday's talks in Istanbul fail.
"It might be the last chance because by installing fuel rods produced by Iran in the core of the Tehran research reactor, probably parliament will not allow the government to negotiate or send its uranium outside the country and the Istanbul meeting might be the last chance for the west to return to talks," Soltanieh told journalists during a visit to France.
He was referring to a proposed 2009 deal by which Iran would export the bulk of its enriched uranium – the focus of western suspicions that it intends to build nuclear weapons – in exchange for French-made fuel rods. The deal unravelled early last year when Tehran tried to renegotiate its terms.
In Istanbul, diplomats from the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany are due to meet Iran's nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, to discuss Iran's nuclear programme after a similar meeting last month in Geneva failed to make progress.
European diplomats described Soltanieh's remarks as a bluff aimed at diverting attention from pressure on Iran to comply with UN security council resolutions to suspend uranium enrichment.
In London, a Foreign Office spokesman said: "The central issue at Istanbul will be Iran's nuclear programme. Any discussion of a fuel swap deal as a possible confidence-building measure would be welcome, but the overarching issue remains the need for Iran to address the legitimate concerns of the international community."
European officials said the terms of a fuel exchange deal would have to be updated. As Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium had doubled since 2009, they argued it would have to ship a much greater amount abroad to reassure the international community it was not attempting to amass enough to build a nuclear arsenal.
A diplomat also questioned Iran's claim that it would be able to make its own fuel rods this year. "As far as we are aware, they are nowhere near that capability."
Western capitals are lobbying Russia, China and Turkey to turn down an invitation to visit Iranian nuclear sites before the Istanbul meeting, which they portrayed as a fake show of transparency intended to undermine international solidarity and evade further sanctions.
Bruno Tertrais, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, said Soltanieh's remarks suggested that Tehran was beginning to feel the pressure of sanctions. "It's interesting this comes at the same time as the invitation for the nuclear tour," he said. "It's clearly a public relations campaign , and they do these campaigns when they feel uncomfortable."