Iran is counting on Russia to remain neutral regarding the UN Security Council's possible adoption of new sanctions over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, the country's top nuclear official said.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said in an interview published on Tuesday in Russian newspaper Vremya Novostei that Moscow's support for new sanctions would "remain in the memory of the Iranian people."
The United States and other Western countries suspect Iran of developing nuclear weapons under the cover of a peaceful nuclear energy program and are seeking new sanctions following Iran's move to enrich uranium to 20%.
"We would like Russia to take a neutral position. But on that your leadership will decide for itself," said Salehi, who is also the Iranian vice-president.
Russia has consistently said the dispute should be resolved through diplomatic means, but has increasingly expressed a willingness to consider sanctions.
President Dmitry Medvedev said last week that Iran's intransigence could force the UN Security Council to look at the issue.
"Unfortunately, Tehran is not responding to a number of constructive compromise proposals and we cannot close our eyes to this. Therefore, I do not rule out that the Security Council will have to revisit this issue," Medvedev said at a joint news conference with Barack Obama after the signing of a new arms reduction treaty in Prague.
He told ABC News, however, that sanctions were unlikely to target Iran's energy sector or its international trade, stressing in an interview before his current trip to Washington for the nuclear security conference that the sanctions should be "smart" and not hurt the Iranian people.
Salehi said that Iran already had 4 kg of 20%-enriched uranium, adding that it could produce more highly enriched uranium but did not need to.
"We have 4 kilograms of uranium. But we need 1.5 kilograms each month," Vremya Novostei quoted the official as saying. "We can enrich uranium to any level. We simply do not need to. But technologically we are totally capable."
Iran needs the fuel for a research reactor in Tehran, but refused to send its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France under an International Atomic Energy Agency deal backed by the six major world powers negotiating with Iran on the nuclear issue.
The vice president said Iran had not rejected the deal, but had only demanded assurances it would not lose out, saying France had held on to 50 tons of Iranian uranium since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
"Suppose we give all our uranium. Where is the guarantee they will then give us what is promised? Why not give us the 100 kilograms of highly enriched uranium immediately?" Salehi said. "Why do we need to wait a year, as they propose?"
He added that Iran hoped the Russian-built Bushehr reactor would begin work in the coming months as planned. He stressed that the project was outside the scope of UN resolutions, and said Iran would build another 20 reactors in the next 20 years.
"These long-term projects do not always have to be big. For example, we are designing a plant with a capacity of 360 megawatts in Darhuveyn near the city of Ahwaz in the south," Salehi said, adding that Swiss experts had helped with the design and Russia had not been asked to participate.
MOSCOW, April 13 (RIA Novosti)