Iran’s supreme leader has said his country will continue to exercise its “nuclear rights” in a speech ahead of crucial talks in Geneva over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme.
In a rare, live televised address on Wednesday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told commanders of the Basij force, a volunteer militia of young Iranians, that there would be no retreat for his country.
“I insist on stabilising the rights of the Iranian nation, including the nuclear rights,” he said. “I insist on not retreating one step from the rights of the Iranian nation.”
He said Iran’s negotiators “must respect these limits” when talking about the nuclear programme with “enemies and opponents”.
|Israelis in Moscow for talks.|
His comments came hours before diplomats from the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany opened a new round of talks in Geneva with Iranian negotiators – the third set in a little over a month. They lasted 10 minutes and were introductory, diplomats said.
Iran has signed the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which affords nations the right to civilian nuclear technology in exchange for not acquiring nuclear weapons. However, Iran has been judged by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, to be in breach of its agreements for infringements such as not disclosing its activities and not allowing full inspections.
The UN Security Council has in return imposed sanctions on Iran, crippling its economy. The Geneva talks are aimed at agreeing concessions from Iran on its nuclear activities in return for the easing of sanctions. At the heart of the disagreements are Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium to near a “weapons-useable” threshold, and work on its Arak heavy water reactor, which would produce plutonium, which can be used in a future nuclear bomb.
During previous rounds of negotiations, the group of world powers said it was close to winning concessions from Iran on slowing its nuclear work in exchange for easing international sanctions.
The group is now trying to see if they can get past the problems that existed last time they met just under two weeks ago, said Al Jazeera’s James Bays, who is in Geneva.
“Then, France had particular objections to parts of the deal that were on the table, particularly what happens to the uranium that’s already been enriched by Iran to about 20 percent, and also the heavy water plant that Iran is building,” Bays said.
Top policymakers have said that an interim accord with Iran could finally be within reach, but caution that differences remain and could still prevent an agreement.
International demands on Iran include suspending enrichment of uranium to 20 percent fissile purity – a significant advance towards the threshold for bomb fuel – as well as limiting its enrichment capacity and postponing the Arak reactor project.
Israel, which has not signed the NNPT and is suspected of owning a nuclear arsenal it has never declared, is opposed to Iran having any nuclear capacity and wants stronger sanctions to force Iran into a deal.
Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, likened Iran’s nuclear capacity to that of chemical weapons in Syria, which he said must be destroyed completely. His remarks came after a meeting with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
Iran has always denied it is trying to gain a nuclear weapon.
The IAEA recently said that both enrichment and work on Arak had been reduced since Hassan Rouhani became president earlier this year.