BISHKEK: Iran wants to end the standoff with global powers over its nuclear program swiftly but will not sacrifice its rights or interests for the sake of a solution, President Hassan Rouhani said Friday.
Meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of a regional security summit, Rouhani said it was a good time for new steps to resolve the dispute over a program Western states believe is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.
“Regarding the Iranian nuclear issue, we want the swiftest solution to it within international norms,” Rouhani said at the meeting with Putin in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek.
“Russia in the past has taken important steps in this sphere and now is the best opportunity for new steps from your side,” said Rouhani, whose country has observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, dominated by Russia and China.
Iran has been in on-off talks for years with six global powers seeking to ensure it does not develop nuclear weapons capability. A solution has been elusive and the most recent talks, in April, ended without a breakthrough.
Rouhani, who was elected in June, has said Iran will be more transparent and less confrontational in talks with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
But he made clear earlier Friday that he was only ready to go so far, indicating Iran would not give up its right to enrich uranium.
“I declare that only if there is political will, if there is mutual respect and mutual interest, and only if the rights of Iran’s people are ensured, can we guarantee the peaceful character of Iran’s nuclear program,” he said.
Western diplomats say Iran has continued to expand its uranium enrichment capacity in recent months, potentially shortening the time it would need to produce sufficient highly-refined material for a bomb.
Rouhani said a date could be set for later this month during the U.N. General Assembly in New York, where meetings between Iran and some of the powers are expected.
Late Thursday, Iran announced that it significantly reduced its stock of 20 percent-enriched uranium by converting it to reactor fuel, apparently in a bid to ease international concerns over its nuclear program.
The announcement, from the government of the moderate president, appeared to be a signal to ease Western worries. Speaking to state television, Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said that the country’s stocks of 20 percent-enriched uranium had fallen from 240 kilograms to around 140 kilograms as it is converted into fuel for a medical research reactor.
Salehi said the remainder was also being converted.
“We have converted a remarkable part to fuel rod,” Salehi said. “The amount of 20 percent-enriched uranium is small.”
An August report by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog put Iran’s stockpile 20 percent-enriched uranium at 185.5 kilograms. Some 250 kilograms of the 20 percent-enriched uranium is enough for a bomb if it is refined more than 90 percent.
Earlier Thursday, the new Iranian envoy to the U.N. agency said Tehran was ready for more engagement to clarify its disputed nuclear program. However, Reza Najafi stressed Iran would never give up its “inalienable right to develop a nuclear program,” the official IRNA news agency reported Friday.