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. Iran softens tone in nuclear stand-off
TEHRAN (AFP) Oct 10, 2005
Iran on Monday softened its tone amid a crisis over its disputed nuclear programme, with a senior national security official asserting the country had made a "strategic choice" to pursue negotiations.

"Negotiations are Iran's strategic choice in the nuclear issue, and we think that there is no other way forward except through talks," Ali Agha Mohammadi, spokesman for Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told the student news agency ISNA.

"Iran wants its nuclear case to be transparent and other countries want to ease their concerns through negotiations, so therefore the only solution to reach these objectives is to talk," he added.

At the centre of the dispute is Iran's work on the nuclear fuel cycle. The clerical regime insists it only wants to make reactor fuel and that it has a right to do so as a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

But the European Union and United States fear Iran is using this atomic energy drive as a means to acquire the same technology needed to make weapons.

Talks with Britain, France and Germany broke down in August, when Iran slammed the door on an offer of incentives in exchange for a cessation of fuel work. Iran also ended a freeze on fuel cycle work by resuming uranium conversion -- a precursor to potentially dual-use enrichment work.

In September, the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board passed a resolution finding Iran to be in non-compliance with the NPT -- paving the way for the matter to be referred to the UN Security Council.

The IAEA board also urged Iran to return to a full freeze.

Iran has so far refused to do so, and had also threatened to respond to the resolution by blocking tougher IAEA inspections and even resuming enrichment itself.

But in recent days regime officials have eased their tone, and both the EU-3 and Iran have been openly calling for negotiations to resume ahead of the next IAEA meeting in November -- when a Security Council referral could be on the cards.

According to Mohammadi Iran could accept a compromise on uranium conversion proposed by South Africa, a country which has been supporting Iran's position, as a precursor to resuming enrichment itself.

"If we need seven or eight more months of talks to reach a final decision on enrichment... during this period we could accept receiving uranium yellowcake from South Africa and sending back UF6 gas produced at Isfahan," he said.

At Isfahan, Iran is converting raw mined uranium into the more concentrated yellowcake and in turn converting that into UF6 -- the gas that would eventually be fed into cascades of centrifuges, the process known as enrichment.

This proposal, however, remains at odds with the position of the US and EU -- who are trying to keep Iran from possessing fuel cycle technology, and in particular from acquiring large stocks of UF6.

Iran's critics point out the country is trying to produce nuclear fuel but has not even laid the foundation stones for the 20 or so power stations it claims it needs the fuel for.

Mohammadi said Iran was not seeking "to make fuel that it does not need, but refuses to give up the right".

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