TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran announced what it called a major step forward in its nuclear programme on Sunday, showing determination to pursue it a day before talks with world powers which fear Tehran may be seeking atom bombs.
Nuclear energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran would use domestically produced uranium concentrates, known as yellowcake, for the first time at a key nuclear facility, cutting its reliance on imports of the key ingredient for nuclear fuel.
“This means that Iran has become self-sufficient in the entire fuel cycle,” Salehi said.
Western analysts say Iran sometimes exaggerates its nuclear advances to gain leverage in its stand-off with the West.
The announcement appeared timed to show Iran will not back down in a long-running row over its nuclear programme ahead of the December 6-7 meeting in Geneva where six powers are seeking assurances its atomic ambitions are peaceful.
Salehi told a televised news conference that the announcement meant “we will be taking part in the negotiations with strength and power.” He insisted the Geneva talks were for the benefit of the other countries, not Iran.
“These talks are a way out of a political deadlock for the other side. We want to create a graceful solution out of the political deadlock for those who have pressurised us.”
Iran says its nuclear programme is aimed at power generation while the West suspects Tehran wants it to yield atom bombs, and has tightened sanctions on the Islamic state in recent months.
Western diplomats say the sanctions are hurting Iran’s oil-dependent economy despite the Tehran leadership’s denials of any such impact, and they hope this will persuade them to enter serious negotiations about its nuclear programme.
Western powers want Iran to suspend uranium enrichment activity, which can produce fuel for nuclear power reactors or
provide material for bombs if refined to a higher degree.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Iran’s enrichment will not be discussed in Geneva, though it is the central concern of the six powers — the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany — that will be present.