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Middle East

Iran: Nuclear line hardens as sanctions hit home


Tehran is considering a harder line in nuclear talks with world powers, with Iranian officials saying they may threaten to step up the uranium enrichment programme unless the West makes immediate concessions on sanctions.

The proposed demands have not yet been adopted as a negotiating policy, but it would seem economic pressures have pushed Iran to consider them as a way of seeking relief from sanctions.

Boosting enrichment levels would also push Iran's nuclear programme closer to the "red line" set by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, beyond which Israel would consider military options rather than economic pressures and diplomacy.

Mansour Haghighatpour, deputy head of the parliament's influential National Security Committee, said failure to negotiate a deal could clear the way for Iran to enrich uranium above the current highest level of 20 per cent. The West fears Iran could be working towards producing nuclear weapons. Iran says its enrichment programme is for peaceful purposes.

Several rounds of talks have produced little progress. No date has been set for their resumption.

"The West now has a chance to strike a deal with Iran. Perhaps we may need to produce nuclear fuel for large commercial vessels that need 60 per cent purity," Mr Haghighatpour said.

That would bring the enrichment level far closer to the 90 per cent threshold for warhead-grade material and would probably trigger renewed calls for military action from Israel and others in the West. Although Iran denies wanting nuclear weapons, it has been suggested that nuclear-powered submarines could be on its agenda.