Iran invited more countries Thursday to join Europeans leading troubled talks over its nuclear program, apparently seeking to bring in more sypathetic negotiators. The suprise call was part of a drive to dramatically change negotiations Europe hoped would rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The talks suffered a blow when Iran earlier this month rejected Europe's central proposal _ an offer economic incentives in return for permanently giving up uranium development. In defiance of European calls, Iran also resumed work at its uranium reprocessing plant in Isfahan, which had been suspended.
The United States accuses Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran says its program is purely peaceful, aiming only to produce electricity. It insists it has the right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to build a uranium development program and rejected the European offer because it didn't recognize that right.
Bringing other nations into the negotiations would likely weaken what has been an unusually unified front by Europe and the United States, pressuring Iran to accept limits.
Iran's new top nuclear negotiator, hard-liner Ali Larijani, said more nations should join the talks.
The U.S. State Department dismissed the proposal as a "typical tactic of the Iranian government designed to change the subject." In Washington, spokesman Sean McCormack said the current format, involving the three EU nations, was the correct one and that Iran ought "to take the deal that is on the table."
Europe also responded coolly to Larijani's call.
IAEA board member Russia did not address the Iranian call. But Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday there was no evidence proving Iran has violated the nuclear non-proliferation regime.
Russia has helped Iran build its first nuclear reactor, at Bushehr, and China has been increasing its ties with Tehran. Both would likely try to prevent any attempt to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions _ and would likely veto any Security Council attempt to impose sanctions, said Iranian political analyst Davoud Hermidas Bavand.
Others on the IAEA with their own nuclear programs might be sympathetic to Iran's arguments that it has every right to uranium development. Brazil and Argentina have appeared hesitant to subject Iran to restrictions on its nuclear program, worrying that they could face the same pressure one day.
Iran has also previously courted support for its nuclear program from Arab countries including Yemen, which is both a member of the IAEA board and the Non-Aligned Movement.
Iran wants to resume its program for uranium enrichment, the most sensitive part of the fuel development program. Uranium gas can be enriched either to a low level for use in a nuclear reactor or to a high level for use in a nuclear weapon.
Iran suspended enrichment last November as a gesture in negotiations and to avoid referral to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions. It resumed an earlier phase in the process, uranium reprocessing, when it reopened its facility at Isfahan, AP reported.