Iran's president said Sunday his country would not surrender what it considers its right to nuclear development in upcoming talks with world powers, but that it would be "transparent" in negotiations over the 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 crippling economic sanctions it faces.
While the moderate President Hassan 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 hard-liners in his country who say he plans to give up the program in exchange for sanctions relief.
"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.
"The Iranian nation has never been after a weapon of mass destruction since it does not see it as legitimate," Rouhani said. "We do not have anything on the table to submit to others except transparency," he added.
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 per cent — a level that is a possible pathway to nuclear arms — in exchange for the easing of some Western sanctions.
It agreed to dilute half of its 20 per cent enriched uranium into 5 per cent 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.
On Sunday, the official IRNA news agency quoted Iranian senior nuclear negotiator Abass Araghchi as saying the coming talks will end Friday.
"We will enter into the writing of the draft in this round of the talks," he said.
Also on Sunday, Khamenei criticized the West for its demands Tehran restrict its missile power, IRNA reported.
"They expect restricting Iran's missile program while they are continuously raising military threats against Iran. Hence, such an expectation is idiotic and insane."
Iran's ballistic program has also been a concern for the West since ballistic missiles could be used to deliver nuclear warheads. Iran insists the missile program has no nuclear dimensions but is also adamant that its defence industry is a "red line" as a topic at the nuclear talks.
The U.S. has argued that a U.N. Security Council resolution bans Iran from "undertaking any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons."
The Sunday remarks by Khamenei came during his visit to an aerospace exhibition in which an advanced CIA spy drone, captured in 2011 by Iran, and its Iranian-made copy was on display. The report said aerospace experts briefed Khamenei on the latest details of a project to reverse-engineer the drone.