World Bulletin/News Desk
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday he had authorised nuclear talks with world powers including arch-foe the United States just to prove Iran's peaceful intentions, but Tehran would not be bullied and would not stop atomic research.
He added in remarks to nuclear scientists that Iran should continue the discussions to end a dispute over nuclear work the West fears is aimed at developing a bomb, but Iran's negotiators should not cede any gains made by its nuclear programme.
"Americans are well aware we are not after nuclear weapons, but they still raise the charges every now and then to keep up the anti-Iran hype," Khamenei told a group of nuclear scientists and officials who gathered to mark Iran's "Nuclear Technology Day," an important event in Iranian calendar.
"That's why I agreed to the government's initiative to negotiate, just to break the hype and expose the truth to world opinion," he said, referring to moderate President Hassan Rouhani's diplomatic overture to the West after his landslide election last June.
Khamenei, who wields near absolute power in Iran, warned however that there was a limit to how far the Islamic Republic would go to satisfy its adversaries on the nuclear issue.
"No, Our pursuit of nuclear science will never halt. We will not cede any of our gains in nuclear research and development and our negotiators must not allow the other side to bully Iran," he said, as quoted by the official IRNA news agency.
"The decision to negotiate doesn't mean we will backtrack on the issue."
However, the Iranian clerical leader reaffirmed support for diplomacy as a means to settle the long-running nuclear dispute which has cost Iran economically ruinous sanctions.
Khamenei spoke as Iranian negotiators and major powers - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - met for the second of two days of talks in Vienna to try to clear the way for a long-term accord on Tehran's nuclear work, although diplomats said "significant gaps remained to be bridged.
Iran denies accusations its nuclear programme is intended to obtain nuclear weapons capability. It wants an end to sanctions and to regain what it sees as its rightful place as a leading regional power.
"Iran cooperating deal as planned"
Iran is cooperating with U.N. nuclear inspectors seeking answers about detonators that could be used to help set off an atomic explosive device, part of a wider investigation into Tehran's activities, their chief said on Wednesday.
Iran agreed late last year to grant inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) greater access to nuclear-related sites and to provide more information about its atomic programme, which it says is for purely peaceful purposes.
Under the framework deal, Iran also agreed to start addressing suspicions that it may have worked on designing an atomic weapon - a potential breakthrough in a long-stalled investigation into suspected bomb research by Tehran.
By mid-May, Iran is supposed to provide information to the IAEA about its need or application for the development of so-called Exploding Bridge Wire detonators.
These fast-functioning detonators have some non-nuclear uses, but can also help set off an atomic device.
Asked about implementation of the deal, IAEA director general Yukiya Amano said: "We are working on it and they are cooperative."
"Our people in the safeguards department are having close contact with them," he told Reuters during a seminar in Oslo.
Amano also said Iran was implementing last year's interim nuclear deal with six world powers as planned.
The U.N. body has a pivotal role in checking that Iran is complying with the Nov. 24 deal, whereby it agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for the easing of some sanctions.
"I can tell you, these measures (in the deal with the six powers) are being implemented as planned," said Amano.
The IAEA's and the powers' talks with Iran are separate but still closely linked as both are focused on easing fears that Tehran may be seeking the capability to produce atomic bombs.
Amano spoke as negotiators from Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia met for a second day in Vienna as part of efforts to hammer out a long-term settlement of the nuclear dispute by July 20.
The IAEA issues monthly updates to member states about the implementation of the accord with the powers that entered into force on Jan. 20. The next update is expected around April 20.
"The problem of Iran is assuring that declared activities and material are staying in peaceful purpose," Amano, a veteran Japanese diplomat, said.
"We need more tools to verify that all the activities in Iran are for peaceful purposes. That will take time to implement."