TEHRAN  - Iran said on Tuesday it views its nuclear activities as a non-negotiable right, but confirmed they will be discussed in mooted talks with world powers aimed at defusing a crisis containing the seeds of a new Middle East war. “The issue of our country’s peaceful nuclear activities will be on the agenda of talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany),” foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters in a televised briefing.

“Our main demand is recognition of our right to possess the (nuclear) technology for peaceful purposes,” Mehmanparast said.

“That right has been achieved, and we don’t think there is a negotiable issue regarding our nuclear activities.”

Mehmanparast’s comments came on the second day of a two-day visit by officials from the UN nuclear watchdog for talks focused on “possible military dimensions” of the nuclear programme. The visit was seen as an important precursor to the possible P5+1 talks.

The ministry spokesman said the aim of the visit by the International Atomic Energy Agency officials was not inspections but to talk about “a framework to pursue dialogue and cooperation between Iran and the IAEA.” A previous IAEA visit to Tehran late last month was inconclusive.

Tensions have risen dramatically this year over Iran’s nuclear programme, which much of the West suspects includes research to develop atomic weapons.

Israel has provoked increasing speculation it is poised to launch air strikes on Iran’s nuclear sites, raising the possibility of a wider conflict being triggered that could draw in the United States, EU nations, and Saudi Arabia.

Iran on Monday announced its military was holding exercises to boost air defences around its nuclear facilities. A deputy in the country’s joint chiefs of staff, General Mohammad Hejazi, was quoted by the Fars news agency on Tuesday saying: “If the Zionist regime (Israel) commits a stupid action, we have a total ability to confront it.”

Meanwhile, the European Union was studying Iran’s positive response to an offer it made late last year to revive talks with the P5+1 that collapsed in January 2011.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the talks could resume if Iran placed no pre-conditions on them, particularly concerning its nuclear programme.

Iran would take pre-emptive action against its enemies if it felt its national interests were endangered, the deputy head of the Islamic Republic’s armed forces was quoted by a semi-official news agency as saying on Tuesday.

“Our strategy now is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger Iran’s national interests, and want to decide to do that, we will act without waiting for their actions,” Mohammad Hejazi told Fars news agency.

Two Iranian warships sent by Tehran to the Mediterranean last week to help “train the Syrian navy” entered the Suez canal early on Tuesday on their way back to Iran, a canal authorities source told AFP.

The ships, a destroyer and supply vessel, came from the Syrian port of Tartus and were heading south towards the Red Sea, the source said, adding that they were due to complete their transit of the canal by Tuesday afternoon. Their arrival in Tartus, announced by Iranian state media on Monday, came amid heightened tensions between Iran and Israel, fuelled by a longstanding row over Tehran’s nuclear programme, and as unrest continues to rock Syria.

Speculation has been rising that Israel might launch air strikes against Iranian atomic facilities.

Iran is a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad, and accuses Israel and the West of seeking to destabilise Syria, where activists say the regime’s 11-month crackdown on pro-democracy activists has left more than 6,000 people dead.