TEHRAN, Iran – Toughening its stance in advance of a meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, Iran (search) on Saturday said it would reject international restrictions on its nuclear program and challenged the world to accept Tehran as a member of the "nuclear club."
Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi (search) rejected further outside influence on Tehran's nuclear ambitions two days before the International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors meets to discuss Iran's highly controversial program.
"We won't accept any new obligations," Kharrazi said. "Iran has a high technical capability and has to be recognized by the international community as a member of the nuclear club. This is an irreversible path."
Iran has repeatedly insisted its nuclear program is geared toward generating electricity, not making weapons, but the United States and its allies say Tehran has a secret nuclear weapons program. The IAEA (search) has wrestled with the dilemma for more than a year.
Iran has already suspended uranium enrichment and stopped building centrifuges. It has also allowed IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities without prior notice, part of the additional protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (search) that still must be approved by parliament.
Kharrazi insisted that Iran would not give up its development of the nuclear fuel cycle, the steps for processing and enriching uranium necessary for both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. Iran says it has achieved the full cycle, but is not now enriching uranium.
"That somebody demands that we give up the nuclear fuel cycle ... is an additional demand," Kharrazi said, apparently referring to demands by U.S. and European countries that Iran halt operations of a plant it inaugurated in March in Isfahan, central Iran, that processes uranium into gas. The demand also calls for aborting plans to build a heavy water reactor in Arak, another city in central Iran.
"We can't accept such an additional demand, which is contrary to our legal and legitimate rights," he said. "No one in Iran can make a decision to deny the nation of something that is a source of pride."
Iran has confirmed possessing technology to extract uranium ore, processing it into a powder called yellow cake (search) and then converting it into gas. The gas is then injected into centrifuges for low-grade enrichment that turns it into fuel for nuclear reactors.
Uranium enriched to low levels has energy uses, while highly enriched uranium can be used in bombs.
Iran suspended uranium enrichment last year under mounting international pressure. In April, it said it had stopped building centrifuges. IAEA inspectors had found traces of highly enriched uranium at two sites, which Iranian officials have maintained was from contaminated imported materials.
Kharrazi condemned a draft resolution critical of Iran drawn up by Germany, France and Britain and being debated before the IAEA board meeting Monday which says Iran's cooperation has not been complete.
"The draft resolution is unacceptable unless changes are made so that it can be acceptable to all parties," he said.
The minister said insistence by Europeans on "very tiny issues is contrary to the spirit of cooperation." He said that by doing so, the European countries are bowing to U.S. pressure and showing a "lack of independence."
Kharrazi warned that failure in settling the debate over Iran's nuclear dossier will be a "failure for all," including Iran, Europe and the IAEA.
The minister confirmed Iran's efforts to buy 4,000 magnets needed for uranium enrichment equipment, saying the issue was blown out of proportion. He did not say where the magnets were bought.
Diplomats told The Associated Press in Vienna that Iran had acknowledged inquiring about 4,000 magnets needed for uranium enrichment equipment with a European black-market supplier and had dangled the possibility of buying a "higher number."
"If everybody is looking to settle this issue (Iran's nuclear dossier), they have to look at it in a broad outlook," Kharrazi said.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei (search) said last month his agency had not found proof to date of a concrete link between Iran's nuclear activities and its military program, but "it was premature to make a judgment."