Iran ready to discuss 'limits' to uranium enrichment

TEHERAN (AFP) - Iran is willing to discuss limits in the level to which it enriches uranium but will never suspend the process altogether, the deputy foreign minister said in comments reported on Sunday.

"Over the past 10 years, we have insisted that a total suspension of uranium enrichment is out of the question," said Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, who plays a key role in nuclear talks with the West.

"But during the negotiations we could discuss the framework, level, method and site (of enrichment) on condition that this does not undermine enrichment and Iran's right," the ISNA news agency quoted him as saying.

His comments come after Iran held talks with foreign ministers of the major powers on Thursday on the framework for negotiations on its nuclear programme which are due to be held in Geneva on October 15 and 16.

The West wants major concessions from Iran including the suspension of all enrichment of uranium beyond the level required to fuel nuclear power plants, and the closure of Iran's underground enrichment facility near the central city of Qom.

Iran insists that its nuclear drive is entirely peaceful in nature and that it is enriching uranium to 5 and 20 per cent only to generate electricity and for medical purposes.

In February, Iran's Western interlocutors proposed that Iran suspend enrichment at 20 per cent in exchange for an easing of international sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.

Deputy Foreign Minister Araqchi insisted that the talks with the so-called P5+1 group - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany - must lead to the lifting of sanctions "and the recognition of Iran's right to enrich uranium".

"Iran stands ready to lift any concerns" the West has about its nuclear programme, he said.

He added that lifting sanctions and the nuclear issue were central to the historic telephone conversation on Friday between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his US counterpart Barack Obama.

The 15-minute call marked the first contact between leaders of the two countries since diplomatic relations were severed in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Foreign Minster Mohammad Javas Zarif has said he hopes for a deal within a year to allay international concerns about Iran's nuclear drive.

Uranium enrichment lies at the centre of Western concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions. The sensitive process can produce fuel for nuclear power stations or, in highly extended form, the core of an atomic bomb.

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