Iran: We Have Right to Enrich Uranium

Iran insisted Saturday it has the right to enrich uranium (search) to produce nuclear power, saying its decision to suspend enrichment to allay suspicions of a weapons program was voluntary and temporary.

Hasan Rowhani (search), head of the powerful Supreme National Security Council (search), said Iran expected to eventually produce fuel for one or two power plants despite its agreement with the U.N. nuclear agency to suspend enrichment and open up its nuclear program to extensive inspection.

"Our decision to suspend uranium enrichment is voluntary and temporary. Uranium enrichment is Iran's natural right and (Iran) will reserve for itself this right. ... There has been and there will be no question of a permanent suspension or halt at all," Rowhani told a news conference.

"We want to control the whole fuel cycle," he added. "Since we are planning to build seven nuclear power plants in the future, we want to provide fuel for at least one or more of the plants ourselves."

Rowhani also said Iran will punish nations that backed the U.S. plan to bring Iran's nuclear program before the U.N. Security Council (search), introducing a direct threat of sanctions.

On Wednesday, the 35-member board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (search) adopted by consensus a compromise resolution that censured Iran for the secrecy of its nuclear program but fell short of the U.S. position. Key European powers opposed a direct threat, worried that Tehran would stop cooperating in retaliation.

Iran has insisted its nuclear program is aimed only at peaceful uses, challenging U.S. accusations it plans to make weapons.

The Iranian government hopes to produce 6,000 Megawatts of electricity by 2021 from planned nuclear reactors, along with one now under construction. Iran's first nuclear power plant, being built by the Russians at Bushehr on the shores of the Gulf, is expected to be completed by the end of 2004.

Rowhani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, said Iran possesses the technology needed to enrich uranium and does not need foreign help.

"Today, we can produce centrifugal parts ourselves. We possess the technology. We are at the pilot stage. We haven't reached the semi-industrial or industrial stage yet. It's a local technology now," he said.

Rowhani said countries that supported the U.S. call would be effectively barred from receiving lucrative contracts for huge energy and development projects in Iran. Canada, Australia, Japan and New Zealand offered outright support to Washington in negotiations over the IAEA resolution.

"Iran will not treat countries that stood beside America and others equally. We will scrutinize this carefully. In big economic projects, Iran will consider this," he said.