TEHRAN - AFP/Reuters - Iran laid out “red lines” Monday related to its ballistic missile programme, nuclear sites and uranium enrichment ahead of fresh nuclear talks with world powers.
President Hassan Rouhani insisted Iran was “serious” about the negotiations, as his negotiators warned they would not back down on some of the thorniest issues of the decade-long dispute.
Negotiations are set to resume in Vienna on February 18 and 19 between Iran and the so-called P5+1 - Britain, France, the United States, Russia and China plus Germany. Building on a breakthrough interim deal reached in November, negotiators hope to eventually reach a comprehensive accord to allay international concerns that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability, allegations denied by Tehran. Iran made progress in separate but parallel negotiations over the weekend with the UN nuclear watchdog by agreeing to divulge information that could shed light on allegations of possible past weapons research.
Under a deal reached in Tehran with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Iran will explain its need for sophisticated detonators that could be used to initiate a nuclear chain reaction.
But on Monday deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi, who is also a senior Iranian nuclear negotiator, said “the defence-related issues are a red line for Iran. “We will not allow such issues to be discussed in future talks,” he said.
The US lead negotiator in the talks, Wendy Sherman, last week told a Senate hearing that Iran’s ballistic missile programme would be addressed in the comprehensive deal. The missile programme - targeted by UN Security Council sanctions - worries Western powers, as Iran boasts long-range missiles with a maximum range of 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles), enough to reach Israel. Sherman also argued that Iran does not require an unfinished heavy water reactor in Arak - which could one day produce plutonium as a by-product - nor the underground Fordo uranium enrichment site for its civilian nuclear programme.
But another Iranian nuclear negotiator, Majid Takhte Ravanchi, on Monday reiterated that Iran would not accept the closure of “any of its nuclear sites.”
The Arak site is of international concern because Iran could theoretically extract weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel if it also builds a reprocessing facility. Last week, nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran could make changes to Arak’s design to produce less plutonium and “allay the worries.” Salehi has also said Iran would refuse to give up enrichment to 20 percent, a few technical steps short of weapons-grade material. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on key state matters, “has said that Iran should not give up its right to enrich (uranium) to 20 percent,” Salehi said.
Salehi also announced the development of a new type of centrifuge “15 times more powerful” than those currently being used to enrich uranium.
The November deal stipulates that Tehran stops 20 percent enrichment for six months while transforming its current stockpile into a form that is more difficult to refine.
Meanwhile, the first state budget proposed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has sailed through parliament, handing him a political victory as he seeks to build domestic support for international negotiations on the country’s nuclear programme.
Parliament approved on Sunday a budget bill worth 7,930 trillion rials ($319 billion at the official exchange rate) for the next Iranian calendar year, which starts on March 21, official media reported.
Meanwhile, Iran said Monday it has “successfully tested” two missiles on the eve of the 35th anniversary of its Islamic revolution, the official IRNA news agency reported. Iran’s ballistic missile programme has long been a source of concern for Western nations because it is capable of striking its arch-foe Israel.
“The new generation of ballistic missile with a fragmentation warhead, and a Bina laser-guided surface-to-surface and air-to-surface missile, have been successfully tested,” Defence Minister Hossein Dehgan said.
He said the new ballistic missile could “evade anti-missile systems” and was capable of “great destruction.”
The other missile can be fired from a plane or a boat to strike military targets with “great precision,” he added.
President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate elected last year on promises to engage the West diplomatically, congratulated the Iranian people and Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over the tests, IRNA reported.
The UN Security Council, the United States and the European Union have long imposed sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile programme.
Iranian officials have said they will not discuss the missile programme at talks with world powers later this month on Tehran’s controversial nuclear activities.
Western nations and Israel suspect Iran is covertly pursuing nuclear weapons alongside its civilian programme, allegations denied by Tehran.


The budget slows growth in spending in an effort to repair state finances that have been ravaged by economic sanctions. Expenditure is to rise about 9 percent from the original budget plan for the current year - not nearly enough to keep pace with inflation, which is running near 40 percent. “Everything passed by parliament is acceptable to us. There are only a few differences but they are not major,” a deputy to Rouhani, Vice President for Parliamentary Affairs Majid Ansari, was quoted as saying by the IRNA news agency.
Rouhani, who took power last August after elections, needed only 10 days of debate to get his budget passed, an apparent endorsement of his administration as it tries to get the sanctions lifted by reaching a deal with world powers on Iran’s disputed nuclear plans.
By contrast Rouhani’s predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who took a hard line with the West, continually feuded with parliament over economic issues including the budget, which was passed with delays of several months.
To seal a nuclear deal, Rouhani will need to overcome domestic opposition from opponents of his relatively conciliatory approach towards the West, including some of Ahmadinejad’s allies and senior members of the Revolutionary Guards.
Rouhani told parliament in December that Ahmadinejad had squandered oil revenues on cash handouts and housing projects, and that Iran faced a mix of high inflation and stagnating growth, with the economy shrinking 6 percent in the past year.
His budget suggests he views spending discipline as key to rescuing the economy; the 9 percent rise in his plan is much lower than the 31 percent increase envisaged in Ahmadinejad’s last budget.
Iranian-born economist Mehrdad Emadi, of the Betamatrix consultancy in London, said that after years in which Ahmadinejad tried to offset the economic sanctions with huge jumps in government spending, Rouhani was starting to reimpose normal budget constraints, a process that would take years.
“He is addressing serious problems like the fact that Iranian banks have started to face rial shortages,” Emadi said. “The budget begins to address these problems and is designed to rein in inflation.”
Iran’s budget announcements are fragmentary and involve a string of revenue assumptions that are subject to sudden change, so analysts said it was impossible to make firm estimates for the government’s budget deficit next fiscal year.
For example, Rouhani’s budget estimates crude oil exports, Iran’s top revenue source, at 1.5 million barrels per day. Exports, slashed by the sanctions, are now running at just over 1 million bpd, and look unlikely to rise much unless Iran reaches a comprehensive nuclear deal with the West.