Talks next week between Iran and major powers concerned about its nuclear programme could be the "last chance" for the West, a senior Iranian official was quoted as saying on Wednesday.
Official news agency IRNA quoted Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, as saying that once Iran is able to make its own fuel for a medical research reactor, which it has said will happen this year, it may not return to negotiations if the talks in Turkey fail.
"It might be the last chance because by installing fuel rods produced by Iran into the core of the Tehran Research Reactor, probably parliament will not allow the government to negotiate or send its uranium outside the country and the Istanbul meeting might be the last chance for the West to return to talks," IRNA quoted Soltanieh as telling
The comment comes a week before Iran meets the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany in Istanbul on Jan 21-22. Those countries want assurances that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons.
A similar round of talks concluded in October 2009 with a tentative pact for Iran to export some of its low-enriched uranium in exchange for higher enriched, 20% uranium, for the Tehran reactor which makes medical isotopes.
But that deal -- meant as a confidence building measure leading to further talks -- unravelled when Tehran backed away from the terms, ultimately leading to a new wave of sanctions which some analysts say helped push Tehran back to the negotiating table.
Acting foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi said on Saturday that Iran would be able to make its own fuel for the Tehran reactor later this year, making any fuel swap deal "lose its meaning".
Western analysts say Iran sometimes exaggerates its nuclear advances to gain leverage in its stand-off with the West.
"The passing of time is not to the advantage of the other negotiating party and (they) should swiftly make the best of this opportunity," Soltanieh was quoted as saying.
"We consider the possession of peaceful nuclear technology, especially uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes and under the supervision of the IAEA as our absolute right ... By no means will we give up on our undeniable peaceful nuclear technology."
The UN Security Council has called on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment, which can produce fuel for nuclear reactors, and, if done to a much higher level, for nuclear bombs.