BEIRUT

Middle East

Iran dismisses Western demand to close nuclear bunker

Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, is in Vienna.

VIENNA: Iran said on Friday it will never suspend its uranium enrichment program and sees no reason to close the Fordow underground site, making clear Tehran's red lines in talks with world powers later this month.

Last month a senior U.S. official said the United States and its allies would demand that Iran halt higher-grade enrichment and immediately close the Fordow facility at talks over Tehran's nuclear standoff with the West.

But Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told Reuters he saw "no justification" for closing Fordow, which he said was under IAEA surveillance.

"When you have a safe place, secure place under IAEA control, then why do you tell me that I should close it?" he said, making clear Iran built the site to better protect its nuclear work against any Israeli or U.S. attacks.

"Fordow is a safe place. We have spent a lot of money and time to have a safe place," Soltanieh added.

Iran and major powers resumed talks in mid-April in Istanbul after a gap of more than a year - a chance to ease escalating tension and help to avert the threat of a new Middle East war. They are to meet again on May 23 in Baghdad.

The West says Iran's nuclear work is a cover for developing atomic bombs and wants verifiable assurances to the contrary from Tehran - for example, by accepting much more intrusive U.N. nuclear inspections and limiting its enrichment capacity.

Iran denies having a weapons agenda, saying it is enriching uranium solely for peaceful energy purposes.

"One thing is clear: the enrichment in Iran will never be suspended," Soltanieh said.

 

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