TEHRAN, Iran - Iran is prepared to reject an offer to be made today by European countries aimed at defusing mounting tension over its nuclear program.
Hossein Mousavian, the chief Iranian delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in an interview yesterday with Knight Ridder that the expected deal - nuclear fuel and economic incentives in exchange for Iran abandoning uranium enrichment - would be unacceptable.
Mousavian said Iran was prepared to guarantee it would never produce or use nuclear weapons, but it would never give up its right to enrich uranium for nuclear energy as the United States and its European allies are demanding.
"We are prepared for full implementation [of nuclear safeguards], full transparency and full access. At the same time we are insisting on our full rights," he said. Demands for anything less would be rejected, he added.
However, he said, Iranian officials had been instructed to listen to any offer with open minds and would respond only after careful deliberations.
His comments came a day before a private meeting in Vienna, Austria, with officials from Iran, France, Britain and Germany intended to prevent an international showdown over Iran's nuclear program, which the United States charges is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
Uranium enrichment and other nuclear-fuel cycle work is allowed for peaceful purposes under the terms of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran, a signatory to the treaty, says it will use nuclear power only to meet its growing domestic energy needs and free its huge oil and gas supplies for export.
According to the treaty, Iran should be able to receive nuclear technology from other signatories. However, U.S. pressure has largely blocked that.
If Iran fails to agree to suspend its enrichment program by Nov. 25, when the IAEA board of governors next meets, the three European countries might well back the United States' plan to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council to seek sanctions.
Mousavian said Iran was prepared for a showdown at the Security Council. After the United States defeated Iran's two main regional enemies, the hard-line Taliban regime of Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Iran is stronger regionally than it has been since the Islamic republic's inception in 1979.
"If they want to choose confrontation, they should be prepared to pay the costs as we are prepared to pay the costs," Mousavian said. "As we know, we would have damages also."
He said Iran was fed up with what he described as a "double standard" of the West rewarding nuclear powers such as Israel - which is not a signatory to the nonproliferation treaty and is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal - with nuclear technology while prohibiting signatories such as Iran from acquiring nuclear power.
"Iran is the only country in the region which is a member of all mass weapons conventions. And we have opened all nuclear sites in this country to inspectors. In a year they have done 900 man-days of inspections, which in the history of IAEA is unique," he said. "No other country has shown such a level of cooperation."
Numerous overtures by Iran - including paying for a permanent IAEA inspector to monitor the fuel cycle and offering complete control over the Bushehr nuclear plant to the Germans - were rejected, added Mousavian, who was Iran's ambassador to Germany in the early 1990s. Now, Iran is prepared to stay on its solitary path and even deal with attacks on its nuclear sites, he said.
"I recognize that we have a bilateral mistrust. The Western countries, they cannot trust Iran and Iran also cannot trust them. Everyone has their own reasons," Mousavian said.
Even if Iran were forced to withdraw from the nonproliferation treaty, it would never pursue nuclear weapons, Mousavian said.
"Our policy - security, political and defense - is renouncing nuclear bombs and mass destruction weapons forever," he said. "If there are any suspicions, we are prepared for dialogue and clarification and confidence-building measures."
Iran claims it has not yet enriched uranium. But officials here admitted to converting several tons of raw uranium into hexafluoride gas. That gas is fed into centrifuges used to enrich uranium.
At a low level, enriched uranium produces nuclear fuel to generate electricity, but further enriching creates material that can be used to build nuclear weapons.
Iran also continues to assemble and make centrifuges, heightening the Bush administration's concerns that it intends to build a bomb.