Iranian president vows to maintain nuclear facilities

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By FT

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Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new president, has insisted the country will not dismantle its nuclear facilities, as advocated by Israel and US hawks, but has held out hope for an end to Tehran’s long estrangement with Washington.

In an interview with the Financial Times in Tehran, Mr Rouhani struck a tough line on Iran’s expectations over a comprehensive nuclear deal to be negotiated following last weekend’s landmark interim pact.

“One hundred per cent [no],” he said when asked about dismantling nuclear facilities.

While the centrist president, who took office in June, said nuclear weapons had no place in Iran’s defence strategy, he made clear that Tehran was determined to maintain a uranium enrichment programme for peaceful purposes.

Mr Rouhani was speaking during a momentous week that capped his 100 days in office and delivered the six-month interim nuclear deal.

The negotiations were, he said, “the best test” of whether trust could be restored between the US and Iran.

Recalling his telephone conversation with President Barack Obama during Mr Rouhani’s recent visit to the UN in New York, he said: “I found him someone with very polite and smart language.

“Iran-US problems are very complicated and cannot be resolved over a short period of time. Despite the complications, there has been an opening over the past 100 days, which can widen later.”

The US and Iran broke off diplomatic relations after the 1979 Islamic revolution.[eap_ad_1]

The nuclear deal has started to shift the mood of despair in Iran, where an oil-rich economy has been ruined by the populist policies of the predecessor administration of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, as well as by crippling US and European financial and oil sanctions.

Mr Rouhani’s comments contrast with the views of many in the US Congress who believe that a final-stage deal would need to include the closure of the Fordow enrichment facility, built beneath a mountain, and the Arak heavy water reactor, which could be used to manufacture plutonium when it becomes operational.

“This is precisely the sort of comment that is going to make some people in Congress very nervous,” said a US Senate aide about Mr Rouhani’s remarks.

Although the interim agreement says the US will not impose new nuclear-related sanctions during the next stage of talks, there is strong support in Congress for the introduction of further measures that would take effect if the negotiations collapsed.

Robert Menendez, a senior Democrat and chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, said on Thursday that such an approach would allow the Obama administration to say to Tehran: “Hey look, this is what’s coming if you don’t strike a deal.”

Speaking at his presidential palace, Mr Rouhani said the removal of sanctions would help his economic efforts, but much could be achieved before a lifting of the restrictions through more efficient management of the country.

“If you go through my programme, you will see that under the existing sanctions we have managed to lower the inflation,” he said. “Under the existing sanctions we have predicted that our economic growth rate will be positive [in the next Iranian fiscal year]. But at the same time, if sanctions are lifted or eased, we can naturally see its impact on the economy.”

The interim deal freezes Iran’s nuclear advances in return for a modest relief in sanctions.

Iran and world powers are seeking a comprehensive agreement in the next six months. Among the most contentious issues are the size of any low-level uranium enrichment facilities Iran will be allowed to keep and the fate of some of some of the plants.[eap_ad_4]


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