MUNICH: 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 US official as saying Iran had notified the six powers it wanted to install additional “IR-2m” centrifuges, modified versions of second-generation machines.
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.
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