TEHRAN - Iran's new President Hassan Rowhani said Tuesday that Tehran will not give up "one iota" of its nuclear rights, echoing his predecessor, after the UN nuclear watchdog urged improved cooperation.
The comments come ahead of meeting later this month between his Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on restarting negotiations on the Islamic republic's controversial nuclear ambitions.
"Our government will not give up one iota of its absolute rights" on the nuclear issue, said Rowhani, a reputed moderate, repeating a mantra frequently used by his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Soon after his election as president in June, Rowhani said he wanted "serious" talks with world powers to resolve Western suspicions that Iran's nuclear drive is cover to build a bomb despite repeated denials by Tehran.
The two sides have failed to achieve a breakthrough in years of talks, with Iran - during Ahmadinejad's two-term presidency - refusing to make any concessions on sensitive activities in the nuclear programme, notably enrichment.
That has led to several rounds of international sanctions being slapped on the Islamic republic, crucially targeting its financial and oil sectors, choking the economy and stoking a raging inflation.
The last round of talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1 of world powers ended in Almaty in April with an impasse.
In parallel diplomatic efforts, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is urging Iran to provide necessary cooperation to remove suspicions it seeks a nuclear weapons capability. A new round of talks between Iran and the Vienna-based UN watchdog is set for September 27. "Given the nature and extent of credible information available to the agency about possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme, it remains essential and urgent for Iran to engage with us on the substance of these concerns," IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said Monday.
Meanwhile, the US Treasury announced Tuesday that it would permit private organizations to support humanitarian program in Iran, and sports groups to hold exchanges with the country. Opening up a window of cooperation in its tight sanctions crackdown on Iran, the Treasury issued “general licenses”, or permits, for the two areas of activity.
It said this would “encourage humanitarian and goodwill services between the Iranian and American people.”
The first license allows non-governmental organizations to provide support and funds for humanitarian-related activities, including those dealing with health services, disaster relief, wildlife conservation, and human rights and promotion of democracy. The permission will allow any organization pursuing such activities to transfer up to $500,000 a year in funds for them to Iran. But they must report all the details of their activities and the transfers to the Treasury.
The second license permits exchanges involving both professional and amateur sports, including exhibition matches and events, the sponsorship of players, coaching, refereeing and training.
“This action further demonstrates this administration’s commitment to reinforcing ties between the Iranian and American people,” the Treasury said.
Both licenses stress that the activities cannot involve any Iranian companies or organizations blacklisted by the United States under its tight sanctions regime, which seeks to pressure Tehran into giving up what the West says is a program to develop nuclear weapons.
Under those sanctions, the Treasury has placed very tight controls on the ability of any group or business to transfer funds into Iran.