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Iran says uranium enrichment is not up for discussion

At the start of nuclear talks in Turkey, it tells diplomats it won't consider giving up 'our basic rights.'

January 21, 2011|By Julia Damianova, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Vienna — Iranian officials declared at the start of two days of diplomatic talks in Turkey on Friday that they would not discuss suspension of their country's uranium enrichment program.

Suspension is one of the key demands of Western countries, which view Iran as intent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, and has continued the enrichment activities despite four rounds of sanctions approved by the U.N. Security Council. The United States and European Union have added their own sanctions.

The meeting in Istanbul was agreed upon in December in Geneva, after about a 14-month break in negotiations. In addition to Iran, the talks include diplomats from the five permanent Security Council members and Germany. Iranian officials characterized the atmosphere on the first day of the meeting as positive.

Before the start of the talks, the U.S. and its allies warned that they wanted concrete commitments from Iran.

"The nuclear issue is the key issue between Iran and the West, and if we want to be serious we must speak about issues which are central," said one Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

But an Iranian official ruled out any discussion of limiting enrichment.

"We will absolutely not allow the talks to go into the issue of our basic rights, like the issue of suspension of enrichment," Abolfazl Zohrevand, an aide to Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, told journalists.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton held a meeting with Jalili, but their positions remained unchanged, one diplomat close to the talks told news media in Istanbul.

U.S. and Israeli officials have said recently that they believe Iran's nuclear program has suffered a setback. The outgoing chief of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency estimated that Iran would not be able to build a bomb before 2015.

There have been widespread reports that the program was dealt a blow by a computer virus probably launched by a foreign government — possibly Israel.

Damianova is a special correspondent.

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