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Iran Vows To Enrich Uranium Further If Talks Fail


International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran will not hesitate to make more highly enriched uranium itself if there is no deal at talks with major powers starting in Vienna, an Iranian official has said.

The talks with the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Russia, France, and the United States offered the first chance to build on proposals for defusing tensions over Iran's nuclear activity that were raised at a high-level meeting in Geneva on October 1.

"We're off to a good start," IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei told reporters after the October 19 meetings adjourned. "We have had a constructive meeting. Most technical issues have been discussed. We will continue the meeting at 10 a.m. tomorrow [October 20]."

Just before the start of the meeting, Iran's Press TV had reported that Iran "will not hold direct talks with France in Vienna for failing to deliver its nuclear materials in the past."

Iran also struck a defiant tone in the hours ahead of the talks.

Iranian Atomic Energy Organization spokesman Ali Shirzadian said it was not "economically feasible" for Iran to further purify low-enriched uranium (LEU) itself to yield the 150-300 kilograms of material that it needs for the reactor, but that it would do so if the Vienna talks "do not bring about Iran's desired result."

Iran won a reprieve from harsher UN sanctions by agreeing on October 1 to inspections of a hidden nuclear site and, in principle, to send low-enriched uranium abroad for further enrichment into fuel for a Tehran reactor that makes cancer-care isotopes.

But it sent only a junior-level technical delegation to the Vienna talks, not its nuclear energy chief, indicating it may not be ready for a final agreement this week.

"The talks this week are supposed to seal the deal," said a senior Western diplomat, who requested anonymity due to political sensitivities.

"But, since we have had no negotiations thus far with the Iranians, the next couple of days could reopen a lot of what we hoped was already agreed in principle."

Allegations Over Bombing

The talks may also be clouded by Iranian allegations that the United States and Britain backed militants who killed 42 people, including six senior Revolutionary Guards commanders, in a suicide bombing on October 18.

Shirzadian told the official IRNA news agency that providing fuel for the Tehran reactor was "a good test to see whether the West is honest with Iran."

He said Iran's program to produce 5 percent LEU would continue, whatever the outcome.

"We will never abandon our right [to enrich]," he said.

Western diplomats say Tehran must ultimately curb the program to dispel fears of a growing LEU stockpile being highly enriched to produce nuclear weapons.

LEU is used as fuel for nuclear reactors, while a nuclear bomb requires highly enriched uranium.

The West fears Iran's nuclear program is a front to obtain a bomb. Iran says it needs nuclear technology to generate power.

The Vienna talks were likely to run two-three days and intended to finalize technical and legal aspects of the uranium proposal.

Western diplomats said Iran had signaled in Geneva that it was ready to ship about three-quarters of its declared stockpile of 5 percent-enriched uranium to Russia for refinement to 19.7 percent purity, then to France for fabrication into fuel rods.

The material would replace the dwindling reactor fuel with material in a form that is resistant to higher enrichment.

For the powers, the deal's payoff lies in greatly reducing Iran's LEU reserve.

The stockpile has no apparent civilian use since Iran has no operating nuclear power plants, but is now enough to fuel one atomic bomb, if Tehran chose to enrich it to 90 percent.

Western officials expect the deal to entail Iran sending out 1.2 tons of its LEU in one consignment before the end of 2009.

compiled from several Reuters reports