Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday his country has nothing to offer except transparency in nuclear talks with world powers, rebuffing hard-liners as negotiators seek a final deal over the Islamic Republic's contested program.
The talks, resuming Tuesday, face an informal July deadline to hammer out a final deal to limit Iran's ability to build nuclear arms in exchange for ending the crippling economic sanctions it faces. While the moderate Rouhani and Iran's negotiators have the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hard-liners increasingly criticize the deal as giving up too much while gaining too little from the West.
Speaking Sunday to a group of Iranian medical and nuclear experts, Rouhani appeared to be trying to counter the hard-liners by saying Iran would never accept "scientific and nuclear apartheid" by giving up its program.
"If the world seeks good relations with Iran, it should choose the way of surrendering to Iran's rights, respecting the Iranian nation and praising Iranian scientists," Rouhani said in the speech, which was aired live by state television.
"Iran's path to achieve nuclear technology has been a correct way and it will never stop," he said. "We do not want to withdraw one step in technology."
Rouhani also stressed Iran has not sought nuclear weapons and urged the West not to accuse Iran of doing so.
"The Iranian nation has never been after weapons of mass destruction since it does not see it as legitimate," he said.
The West says Iran's nuclear program could allow it to build atomic weapons. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes, like medical research and power generation.
Iran reached a historic interim deal in November with six world powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. In it, Tehran agreed to stop enrichment of uranium to 20 percent — which is a possible pathway to nuclear arms — in exchange for the easing of some Western sanctions. It agreed to dilute half of its 20 percent enriched uranium into 5 percent and turn the remaining half into oxide, which is very difficult to be used for bomb-making materials.
It also allowed international inspectors into nuclear sites. In the last week, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations watchdog, visited a uranium mine and a uranium-thickening facility in the central Iranian towns of Ardakan and Yazd. Iranian officials said that fulfilled a series of demands it had for Iran, including releasing information about its efforts to develop a type of explosive detonator that can be used in nuclear weapons.
The talks beginning Tuesday hope to iron out a comprehensive deal placing long-term caps on Iran's enrichment program and other atomic activities in exchange for full sanctions relief. The two sides hope to reach agreement by July 20 but can extend negotiations if both agree to do so. Already, Iran has said it will redesign its Arak heavy water reactor to greatly limit the amount of plutonium it can make, a major concession.