TEHRAN -- On the eve of international talks about its disputed nuclear program, Iran announced Saturday that it had designated 16 sites for new nuclear power plants and also had discovered substantial new uranium deposits in its territory.
The timing of Saturday’s announcements from the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran suggests that Tehran is trying to bolster its negotiating position in advance of nuclear talks scheduled to begin Tuesday in Kazakhstan.
Participating in the negotiations are Iran and the so-called six powers, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. The six are expected to offer Iran some form of relief from international economic sanctions if Tehran agrees to reduce production of enriched uranium that could be used toward development of a nuclear weapon.
Washington and its allies accuse Iran of trying to develop atomic weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program. Iran says its nuclear efforts are for peaceful purposes only.
In recent days, Iranian officials have stressed that the nation is determined to proceed with a nuclear program that, the government says, has wide public support. The reported discovery of new uranium reserves and plans for nuclear power plants underscored that determination.
“Defending nuclear rights is defending Iranians’ rights,” Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, declared Saturday, according to the semiofficial Mehr news agency. “Defending nuclear rights is defending [the] right to progress, right to choose, right to live and right to a model society.”
Iran’s nuclear negotiator voiced the hope that Western nations would bring a “credible” proposal to the table in the Kazakhstan talks.
The nuclear issue was raised again in Tehran a day after a rare, mini-thaw in long-frosty U.S.-Iranian relations. At the conclusion of an international wrestling competition here, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Friday shook hands with U.S. wrestlers and posed for photographs with the competitors in front of an American flag. The U.S. finished third in the freestyle wrestling World Cup, behind Russia and champion Iran.
Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.