Iran insisted it remained determined to produce its own nuclear fuel yesterday just four days before a UN Security Council deadline requiring the the sensitive work to be frozen or face the risk of sanctions.
But the Islamic regime added that it remained keen to hold talks related to Western concerns about its nuclear program and revealed that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan was due to arrive in Tehran on Saturday, two days after the deadline.
"Production of nuclear fuel is one of Iran's strategic objectives," lead negotiator Ari Larijani said on a state-owned radio station. "Any action to limit or deprive Iran could not force Iran to give up this goal."
The UN Security Council has demanded that Iran suspend all its enrichment and reprocessing activities by the end of the month amid US-led concerns that its nuclear program is cover for an attempt to produce an atomic bomb.
A package of incentives backed by the six major powers in return for Iran addressing Western concerns is dependent on the regime first agreeing to suspend sensitive nuclear fuel work.
But Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Reza Bagheri insisted while on a visit to key regional ally Syria that a formal moratorium on uranium enrichment remained unacceptable to Iran.
"While cooperating with international institutions, we consider the suspension of enrichment as our red line," Bagheri was quoted as saying in Damascus by Iran's official news agency IRNA.
"We insist on our right because we want to utilize nuclear technology for peaceful ends," he added.
Fuel or bombs
Uranium enrichment can produce the fuel that is necessary for the generation of nuclear power, or in extended form can make the fissile core of an atomic bomb.
Iran has said it has enriched uranium to 4.8 percent, far below the more than 90 percent level needed for a bomb.
Foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said that despite Iran's strong line on enrichment, it remained keen for new talks.
"It is about time the European side returned to the negotiating table without prejudgments and bad humor so that we talk and reach a result," he told reporters.
"We gave our response to the European side and showed we support talks," he added.
He was referring to the package of incentives backed by Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US to which Iran gave its formal response last week.
"In our response we have touched on the issue of enrichment. Our response is clear and comprehensive," Asefi said.
"Europeans must first read it carefully and then come to talk," he said.
"There is a way out [of the standoff] unless they are determined to find fault," he said.
Few details have emerged of Iran's response although the US has already warned it will lead moves to impose sanctions if the response falls short of Security Council demands.
The package offers Tehran incentives including light water reactors and an ensured supply of nuclear fuel in return for a freeze of sensitive nuclear work.
On Saturday, Iran defiantly inaugurated a plant to produce heavy water for use in a new research reactor.
But despite his usual fiery rhetoric, hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted that his country was "no threat to any nation, even the Zionist regime," after opening the plant.