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Iran claims nuke advance ahead of talks

Updated: 2010-12-06 07:35


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TEHRAN, Iran - Iran claimed a milestone on the eve of talks in Geneva with six world powers, saying Sunday it has produced its first batch of locally mined uranium ore for enrichment, making it independent of foreign countries for a process the West fears is geared toward producing nuclear arms.

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Western officials downplayed the announcement, saying it had been expected and that Iran did not have enough ore to maintain the large-scale enrichment program that Tehran says it is building as a source of fuel for an envisaged network of nuclear reactors.

"Given that Iran's own supply of uranium is not enough for a peaceful nuclear energy program, this calls into further question Iran's intentions and raises additional concerns at a time when Iran needs to address the concerns of the international community," said Mike Hammer, spokesman of the US National Security Council.

A senior diplomat familiar with the issue from a member nation of the International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iranian claims of domestic reserves were thought to be exaggerated. The diplomat, who is familiar with the issue, asked for anonymity because his information was confidential.

Whatever its long-term purpose, the immediate effect of the announcement was clear; a message to the six world powers ahead of their talks with Iran beginning Monday in Geneva that uranium enrichment was not up for discussion, with Tehran determined to expand the program instead of scrapping it as the UN Security Council demands.

Expectations were low ahead of the negotiations even before Sunday's announcement from Tehran, with Iran saying it is prepared to discuss nuclear issues only in the context of global disarmament and officials from some of the six powers saying they would be pleased if they yielded no more than agreement to meet at a later date to explore common themes.

Still the ultimate aim of the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany is to commit Tehran to give up enrichment because of its potential use in making nuclear arms.

The talks in Geneva - the first in over a year - are meant to lay the cornerstone for establishing trust. Tehran says it does not want atomic arms, but as it builds on its capacity to potentially make such weapons, neither Israel nor the US have ruled out military action if the Islamic Republic fails to heed UN Security Council demands to freeze enrichment and other nuclear programs.

Over two planned days, Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, will meet with EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, with Ashton's office saying she will act "on behalf" of the US, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany. In fact, senior officials for those six powers will attend and do much of the talking with Tehran.

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