DUBAI Iran has the right to enrich uranium, but does not insist others recognize that right, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator said on Sunday, in what could be a way around one of the main sticking points between Tehran and world powers in talks this week.
Iran and the six world powers are moving closer to an initial agreement to curb Iran's nuclear program, a senior U.S. official and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov both said in the last two days, raising hopes of a peaceful end to the 10-year dispute.
Talks in Geneva between Iran and the so-called P5+1 - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - on November 7-8 appeared close to clinching a deal but ended without agreement.
Western diplomats said one of the sticking points during the talks was Iran's argument that it retains the "right" to enrich uranium. The United States argues Iran does not intrinsically have that right under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The two sides nevertheless agreed to meet again in the Swiss city on November 20.
"Not only do we consider that Iran's right to enrich is unnegotiable, but we see no need for that to be recognized as 'a right', because this right is inalienable and all countries must respect that," Iran's chief negotiator and foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told the ISNA news agency.
The talks seek to reach an interim deal to allow time to negotiate a comprehensive, permanent agreement that would end a 10-year deadlock and provide assurances to the six powers that Iran's atomic program will not produce bombs.
Iran denies that it wants to develop a nuclear weapons capability and insists its program is limited to the peaceful generation of electricity and medical research.
Zarif said he was confident a deal could be struck, but cautioned that progress made in recent talks could be reversed if a "satisfactory result" was not reached. "We want to reach an agreement and understanding," he said.
Few details of a prospective deal have emerged, but Western powers want tighter inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities and the closure of a reactor that could produce plutonium. Iran wants relief from international sanctions that have driven up inflation and seen oil revenues and the currency slump.
"We have reached a very sensitive stage of negotiations, and at this stage we do not want to get into the details," Zarif said.
"It is necessary for them to ... lift the sanctions and economic pressures they have put on the people of Iran. We are moving in that direction."
(Reporting by Isabel Coles and Jon Hemming; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Will Waterman)