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Iran makes threats, pushes for nuke talks

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran is weighing a more confrontational strategy at possible renewed nuclear talks with world powers, threatening to boost levels of uranium enrichment unless the West makes clear concessions to ease sanctions.

Such a gambit -- outlined by senior Iranian officials in interviews this week -- could push Iran's nuclear program far closer to the "red line" set by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for possible military options.

But it also suggests that economic pressures and diplomacy have pushed Iran to the point of considering an ultimatum-style end game in efforts to seek relief from the U.S. and European sanctions, which have targeted Iran's vital oil exports and its ability to use international banking networks.

Mansour Haghighatpour, deputy head of Iran's influential National Security Committee in parliament, told The Associated Press that the hardline negotiating formula under consideration would put Western negotiators on notice that failure to ease sanctions could open the way for uranium enrichment above 20 percent -- currently the highest level acknowledged by the Islamic Republic.

That would mark a dramatic move toward the threshold for warhead-grade material at about 90 percent and certainly bring a sharp escalation in calls for military action from Israel and others in the West. Iran denies it seeks nuclear weapons, but there have been suggestions it could ramp up uranium enrichment for future projects such as nuclear-powered submarines.

There are no immediate plans to resume nuclear talks between Iran and a six-nation group including both Tehran's foes and allies: the permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany. Full-scale negotiations have been on hold since the last round ended in stalemate in June.

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