Iran warned it would resume sensitive uranium conversion work at a facility in the central city of Isfahan, home to one of the Islamic republic's controversial atomic sites. The country said Sunday it is preparing to restart some of its suspended atomic activities.
The statement triggered alarms in Paris, London and Vienna, with a British official labeling it a "dangerous step" and a European diplomat saying the EU was just days away from making Tehran a "generous" offer, including nuclear fuel, technology and other aid.
The European offer would also include "security guarantees" that Iran won't be invaded if it permanently halts uranium enrichment and related activities, European and Iranian officials confirmed.
But a senior European diplomat accredited to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency qualified the security pledge, saying nobody could give a "100 percent guarantee" against invasion, AP informs.
Iran's nuclear negotiator Hasan Rowhani held out the possibility of a coming "understanding" with the EU negotiators, but he warned that Iran was readying to restart uranium-reprocessing work at its Isfahan Nuclear Conversion Facility, according to a report by the state Islamic Republic News Agency.
The negotiations between Iran and the Europeans have stumbled from crisis to crisis since Tehran agreed to suspend its uranium-related activities to reassure the West that it is not bent on developing nuclear weapons. The US and Israel are convinced that Tehran is using the cover of a civilian programme to produce a nuclear bomb - which the Iranians deny.
A senior official involved in the negotiations said last night that this time, the crisis was "more serious" than in the past, because it comes days before the inauguration of Iran's new hardline President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on Wednesday.
Diplomats believe the Iranian authorities want to decide on the future of their talks with the Europeans before Mr Ahmadinejad is sworn in next Saturday, so that any radical policy change would be seen as having been approved by the outgoing president, Mohammed Khatami.
In recent weeks, Iranian officials have made it clear that they are becoming impatient with the negotiations dragging on, even as the Europeans prepared to deliver their proposals on security and economic guarantees for Iran, Independent informs.