World

Iran insists nuclear negotiations must be with UN

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Iranian foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, reiterated Iran’s stance on Sunday that the country will hold no direct nuclear talks with Washington and all dialogue must be through the permanent members of the Security Council.

Salehi predicted the next round could be as soon as late November. Some analysts believe Iran is unlikely to make any additional overtures until after the US election.

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Iranian officials have made no secret about their desire to reopen nuclear talks with the United States and other world powers as economic sanctions dig deeper — with Iran’s supreme leader even depicting his envoys as waiting at the negotiating table.

But Tehran’s proposals remain essentially echoes of demands made during previous rounds of dead-end talks that tried to force the West into a corner: whether to allow the Islamic Republic to keep some level of uranium enrichment despite worries that the labs could become the foundation for an eventual nuclear weapons program.

Iran has signaled it could open bargaining over its highest-level uranium enrichment — now at 20 percent — in exchange for step-by-step easing of sanctions and international acknowledgment that Tehran has the ‘‘right’’ to make lower-grade nuclear fuel. Iran also could push to expand the agenda to include regional issues such as the Syrian civil war against Tehran’s key ally, Bashar Assad.

Stripped bare, however, the impasse is largely over Iran’s ability to make nuclear fuel and whether the United States and its allies — particularly Israel — would agree to allow some degree of uranium enrichment.

It is perhaps the one issue that Tehran cannot put in play. Iran’s leaders portray the nuclear fuel expertise as a symbol of national pride and Iran’s self-declared role as the Muslim world’s technological leader.

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Yet the West cannot easily give a green light to Iran’s enrichment program, making the chances for a breakthrough in any negotiations a major test of wills between the sides. The United States and allies fear Iran’s uranium enrichment could quickly move to weapons-grade material, an assertion Iran denies.

In France, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told Europe-1 radio that Iran appears on track to reach the ability to produce a nuclear weapon by the first half of next year. He said unspecified analysts have made the prediction based on ‘‘absolutely indisputable’’ data, but gave no other details.

Fabius’s comments echoed a statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at the UN General Assembly last month that the world has until next summer at the latest to stop Iran before it can build an atomic bomb. Netanyahu said Tehran would be ready to move to the ‘‘final stage’’ of making such a weapon by then.

With the US election just over two weeks away, both the Obama White House and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are cautious about discussing potential compromises as Iran’s economy shows signs of increasing strain from sanctions, including a plummet in the value of Iran’s currency.

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