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INTERVIEW-Iran says not ready to give up research on centrifuges

Source: Reuters - Sat, 1 Feb 2014 10:48 PM
Author: Reuters
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* Iranian minister says talks on final deal will "take some time"

* Diplomats say centrifuge research has been sticking point

* Too early to see impact of sanctions easing -Zarif

By Adrian Croft

MUNICH, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Iran is not prepared to give up research on centrifuges used to purify uranium as part of a final deal to address international concerns over its nuclear activities, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Saturday.

Iran reached a landmark preliminary agreement with six world powers in November to halt its most sensitive nuclear operations, winning some relief from sanctions in return.

Iran is to begin talks with the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany in Vienna on Feb. 18 on a definitive settlement of the decade-old dispute over its nuclear programme.

Diplomats have said that one sticking point in the talks has been over the research and development of a new model of advanced nuclear centrifuge that Iran says it has installed.

Centrifuges are machines that purify uranium for use as fuel in atomic power plants or, if purified to a high level, weapons.

Asked if Iran would be prepared to give up research on centrifuges as part of a final deal, Zarif said: "No, but I am not prepared also to negotiate over the air."

"We are going to discuss various aspects of the nuclear programme and I do not think technology and science has anything to do with proliferation," he said in an interview with Reuters and The International Media Associates, a television production company.

In December, Al-Monitor, a news website focusing on the Middle East, cited a former U.S. official as saying Iran had notified the six powers it wanted to install additional "IR-2m" centrifuges, modified versions of second-generation machines.

ADVANCED CENTRIFUGES

Diplomats now say, however, that Iran has told the six countries it wants to press ahead with the development of even more advanced centrifuges than the IR-2m.

The November agreement allows Iran to engage in research and development, but bars it from installing new centrifuges.

Western diplomats say they are uncomfortable with the idea of Iran pressing ahead with the development of more advanced centrifuges. But Iran says centrifuge research is crucial.

Asked his expectations for the Feb. 18 talks and how long he thought it would take to reach a final agreement, Zarif said: "It's just the beginning of the negotiations for a final agreement. It is the first step of the final step and I expect it to take some time.

"Of course, in our view it is not that difficult to reach an agreement provided there is good faith and the willingness on the part of all parties to try to examine various options to address the common objective of the Iranian nuclear programme being exclusively used for peaceful purposes," he said, speaking on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

"We are ready because we believe it is in our interests and we have no other intention. So theoretically it shouldn't be that difficult. The detail may be a bit more difficult to achieve, so we will see," said Zarif, speaking in English.

On Jan. 20, the United States and European Union suspended some trade and other restrictions against the OPEC oil producer after the United Nations' nuclear watchdog confirmed that Iran had fulfilled its side of the Nov. 24 agreement.

The announcements allowed six months of negotiation on a definitive accord.

Iran should be able to recover $4.2 billion in oil revenues frozen in foreign accounts over the six months of the interim deal, as well as resume trade in petrochemicals and gold and other precious metals.

TOO EARLY

Zarif said the six powers had "pretty much" kept their side of the bargain in suspending some sanctions, but it was too early to see the results on Iranian trade.

"The psychological impact is there but the practical implications on petrochemicals and other trade is yet to be seen," he said.

A senior U.S. official said on Jan. 12 that Iran would receive the first $550 million instalment of the blocked overseas funds on or about Feb. 1.

Zarif said he believed Iran had received the instalment but was not sure.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel were in Munich for the conference but Zarif said he had "not yet" had any contact with U.S. officials in the German city.

The first round of talks on Syria's three-year-old civil war that ended in Switzerland on Friday were clouded by controversy after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon first invited Iran and then withdrew the offer after Tehran said it did not support a June 2012 political transition deal that is the basis for the talks.

Zarif said the Syria talks would "not necessarily" have made more progress if Iran had participated.

"It is a very difficult situation and I don't expect just with the presence or lack of presence of Iran that that would make such a difference in the first round," he said.

"It is a difficult process and nobody should underestimate the difficulties that lie ahead, but I do not believe that negotiating based on illusions of the power of the opposition that is in Geneva, which hardly controls any ground inside Syria and may not be even welcome in the territories that are controlled by the armed groups inside Syria ... helps achieve a peaceful resolution to this very tragic conflict," he said. (Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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