TEHRAN, Iran - The Islamic Republic of Iran delivered a resolute message yesterday on the eve of talks with six world powers: We're mining our own uranium now, so there is no stopping our nuclear ambitions.
Iran said it has produced its first batch of locally mined uranium ore for enrichment, making it independent of foreign countries for a process the West fears is geared toward producing nuclear arms.
No matter the UN sanctions over the program, "our nuclear activities will proceed and they will witness greater achievements in the future," Iranian nuclear chief Ali Salehi told state-run Press TV.
Western officials downplayed the announcement, saying it had been expected and that Iran did not have enough ore to maintain the large-scale enrichment program that Tehran says it is building as a source of fuel for an envisaged network of nuclear reactors.
"Given that Iran's own supply of uranium is not enough for a peaceful nuclear energy program, this calls into further question Iran's intentions and raises additional concerns at a time when Iran needs to address the concerns of the international community," said Mike Hammer, spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council.
Yesterday's announcement makes clear that Iran does not consider uranium enrichment to be up for discussion at talks beginning today in Geneva. Tehran is determined to expand the program instead of scrapping it as the UN Security Council demands.
Expectations for the talks had been low even before the announcement, with Iran saying it is prepared to discuss nuclear issues only in the context of global disarmament. Officials from some of the six powers have said they would be pleased if negotiations yielded no more than agreement to meet again later.
The talks in Geneva, the first in over a year, are meant to lay the cornerstone for establishing trust. Tehran says it does not want atomic arms, but as it builds on its potential capacity to make such weapons, neither Israel nor the United States have ruled out military action if the Islamic Republic fails to heed Security Council demands to freeze enrichment and other nuclear programs.
The talks are expected to take two days. Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, will meet with EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton. Senior officials for the six powers will do much of the talking with Tehran.
British Defense Secretary Liam Fox said Saturday that the Geneva talks need to make a serious start toward resolving the issue. "We want a negotiated solution, not a military one - but Iran needs to work with us to achieve that outcome," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Iran to come to Geneva prepared to "firmly, conclusively reject the pursuit of nuclear weapons."