- POSTED: 08 Jul 2014 14:05
- UPDATED: 08 Jul 2014 18:46
Iran's supreme leader revealed Tuesday that his country ultimately wants 190,000 nuclear centrifuges -- a huge figure that lays bare the massive gap between Tehran and world powers negotiating a deal.
TEHRAN: Iran's supreme leader revealed Tuesday that his country ultimately wants 190,000 nuclear centrifuges -- a huge figure that lays bare the massive gap between Tehran and world powers negotiating a deal.
The comments, published on Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's website, represent a dramatic intervention in the talks currently taking place in Vienna between Iran and the P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany, for a nuclear accord.
His remarks relate directly to Iran's ability to enrich uranium -- the process of producing fuel from centrifuges for nuclear power stations or, in highly extended form, the core of an atomic bomb.
Iran currently has around 19,000 centrifuges -- of which only 10,000 are working -- but says a higher number, as well as a more powerful type of machine, will be needed to develop nuclear energy in the future.
Khamenei said the long-term number of centrifuges Iran requires is 19 times higher than world powers currently want to allow under a comprehensive agreement.
Uranium enrichment and centrifuge numbers are the most sensitive topic in the negotiations, which aim to conclude a deal by July 20.
But with less than two weeks until that deadline, the supreme leader's remarks expose the gulf that still exists between Iran and the leading nations, who are seeking to curb Iran's nuclear activities and ally concerns it is seeking a bomb.
Referring to the machine used in uranium enrichment, Khamenei, who has the final word on all matters of state, said: "Their aim is that we accept a capacity of 10,000 separative work units, which is equivalent to 10,000 centrifuges of the older type that we already have.
"Our officials say we need 190,000. Perhaps not today, but in two to five years that is the country's absolute need."
Any nuclear deal would involve a framework and years of monitoring, but Khamenei's open declarations throw into doubt the room for compromise and an eventual deal with the West.
According to American media reports, the United States may accept Iran having between 2,000 and 4,000 centrifuges.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said last month that Iran could retain "several hundred centrifuges" but he disclosed that the Iranians were asking for "hundreds of thousands."
The accord being sought by the P5+1 aims to finally end talk of possible US or Israeli military action against Iran. The Islamic republic has always denied seeking an atomic bomb.
In exchange for an agreement, Iran wants punishing Western sanctions to be lifted.
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, a top member of Iran's negotiating team, welcomed the supreme leader's comments and tweeted that he and his colleagues "would not give up any of our nuclear rights."
With Sunni Arab insurgents overrunning large parts of Iraq, and Syria in chaos from civil war, a nuclear deal could help Tehran and the West normalise relations at a particularly explosive time in the Middle East.
In a video message last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif described the talks as a "unique opportunity to make history", saying success would allow both sides to address "common challenges" such as Iraq.
With major differences still apparent after five rounds of talks, Zarif told French newspaper Le Monde that some among the P5+1 were suffering from "illusions".
The talks have been aiming to secure a deal by a July 20 target date when an interim deal struck last November expires.
The six powers want Iran to drastically reduce its nuclear activities to render any drive for a weapons capability all but impossible.
Iran insists it has made too many advances in uranium enrichment to turn the clock back.
The July 20 deadline could potentially be extended by up to six months, and many analysts believe this is already being negotiated.
But US President Barack Obama, facing midterm elections in November, is wary of doing anything that could be construed by his Republican opponents as giving Iran more time to get closer to having the bomb.
This is the longstanding accusation of Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state.