Middle East

Iran rejects West's demand to ship out enriched uranium

Iran's President Rohani smiles as he walks after speaking in a High-Level Meeting on Nuclear Disarmament during the 68th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York
Image caption President Rouhani has promised a new plan on the nuclear dispute this week

Iran will not allow any of its enriched uranium to be shipped abroad, the deputy foreign minister says, rejecting a key demand of Western powers.

Abbas Araqchi was quoted by state media as saying that "shipping the material abroad is our red line".

The comments come ahead of key talks this week in Geneva between Iran and international negotiators over the nuclear dispute.

The talks will be the first since President Hassan Rouhani took office.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday that the window for diplomacy was "cracking open".

"But I want you to know that our eyes are open, too," he added, addressing a summit of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee by video link from London. "Words must be matched with actions."

'Our red line'

Western negotiators have demanded Iran halt production and stockpiling of uranium enriched to 20% - a step away from achieving a nuclear weapons capability - and send some of its stockpiles abroad.

They have also demanded Iran shut down the Fordo production site near Qom, where most of the higher-grade enrichment work is done.

But Mr Araqchi insisted on Sunday that there could be no question of Iran relinquishing its stockpiles of enriched uranium.

"We will not surrender or suspend uranium enrichment in any situation...We will not allow even a gram of uranium to go out of the country," he said, quoted on the website of Iranian state TV.

He did, however, say Tehran would negotiate the form, amount and levels of uranium enrichment.

His comments seemed to contradict those of Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, who was reported last week as telling several Western news agencies that the country had a surplus of enriched uranium and might use this as a bargaining tool at nuclear talks.

However, Iran's Parliament later denied the claims, saying parts of Mr Larijani's interview with Associated Press were "false and fundamentally inaccurate".

The West suspects Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons but Iran maintains its programme is entirely peaceful.

Iran, which has been negotiating with the P5+1 group ( the UK, China, France, Russia and the US plus Germany) over the nuclear issue since 2006, wants the lifting of UN sanctions.

The sanctions were imposed over concerns that it is seeking to build nuclear weapons clandestinely - an allegation Tehran denies.

President Rouhani, who is seen as a moderate, has said he wants to reach a deal on the nuclear dispute in three to six months and has vowed to send a plan to the two-day talks due to begin on 15 October.

The US has said there will be no major concessions on sanctions until the Iranians take concrete steps to reassure the world they are not seeking nuclear weapons.