MOSCOW – Iran's top nuclear negotiator said Friday his country wanted international talks on its disputed nuclear program, but would not relinquish its right to pursue atomic energy.
"We want to use our rights under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and in this context, there will be no retreat, but we are ready for negotiations," Ali Larijani said after meetings with Russian officials.
Larijani said Iran was prepared to renew negotiations with European Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana or to hold talks "in any other format," according to Russian news agencies.
Using a familiar mix of threats and offers, Larijani warned the U.N. Security Council against passing a European-proposed draft resolution that would slap sanctions on Tehran for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.
"Those who support adopting the resolution want to aggravate the problems of the region," he said, adding that imposing the measures on Iran "will not promote a political solution of the problem."
The remarks followed hours of talks with Russian Security Council secretary Igor Ivanov, who said discussions would continue Saturday. Larijani met earlier with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Shortly after arriving in Moscow, Larijani warned that Tehran would reconsider its ties with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, if the European-drafted sanctions were passed by the U.N. Security Council.
"We will reconsider relations with the IAEA if the United Nations passes the ... resolution ignoring Russia's amendments," Russian news agencies quoted him as saying.
Tehran has warned repeatedly that it would respond to U.N. sanctions by blocking the IAEA's inspections of its nuclear facilities.
Larijani repeated that the standoff should be solved through talks with the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany.
The six nations offered Iran a package of economic incentives and political rewards in June if it agreed to freeze its uranium enrichment effort. But his comments marked Tehran's latest insistence that it would continue enrichment, a process central to both civilian power generation and the production of nuclear weapons.
The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty allows for peaceful nuclear power programs, but Iran's activities and its secrecy have led to accusations by the United States and others that it is seeking atomic weapons. Larijani insisted that was not the case, saying that "nuclear weapons have no place in our defense doctrine," Russian news agencies reported.
Russia is building Iran's first nuclear power plant and strongly supports Iran's right to nuclear energy, but has joined the United States and Europe in demanding it halt enrichment in order to ease concerns.
However, Moscow has rejected the European draft, saying the sanctions are too broad and too strong, and urging revisions including the removal of all references to the plant Russia is building in the Iranian city of Bushehr.
Both Russia and China, which also has major commercial ties with Iran, have publicly pushed for dialogue instead of U.N. punishment, despite the collapse last month of a European Union attempt to entice Iran into talks.
Lavrov said at the start of his talks with Larijani that their discussion would focus on ways to resume negotiations. "We stand for solving the problem through talks, let's see how we can advance in that," Lavrov said.
The European draft resolution would order all countries to ban the supply of material and technology that could contribute to Iran's nuclear and missile programs and impose a travel ban and asset freeze on companies, individuals and organizations involved in those programs. It would exempt the Bushehr plant, but not the fuel needed for the reactor.
While rejecting the sanctions proposal, Russian officials have hinted they could postpone Bushehr's scheduled launch next year — a signal that Moscow was applying its own pressure on Tehran to comply with international demands. But analysts said Moscow would draw the line at scrapping the $1 billion project.
Tehran has balked at a Russian offer to move its enrichment work to Russian soil to assuage international concerns that Iran could misuse the enrichment process to develop weapons. Larijani said the proposal remains on the table.
He called Russia "our neighbor and friend," and told Lavrov the countries are "natural allies."
"We are looking into the future relying on the development of relations in political, economic and military fields," Larijani said.
Russia has provided spare parts for Soviet-built weapons in the Iranian inventory and has also reached a deal to supply air defense missiles to Iran, shrugging off U.S. concerns.