Iran would enrich uranium up to 60 percent purity if negotiations with major powers over its nuclear program fail, an Iranian lawmaker said on Tuesday, in comments that may add to Western alarm about Iranian intentions.
Mansour Haqiqatpour, deputy head of parliament's Foreign Policy and National Security Committee, said 60 percent enrichment would be to yield fuel for nuclear submarines, which often require uranium refined to high levels.
But it would also take Iran another significant step closer to the 90 percent enrichment level needed to make atomic bombs, which the West suspects is the Islamic state's ultimate aim. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful energy only.
Even though it is Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - and not the parliament - who decides foreign policy issues, Haqiqatpour's remarks were a sign of Iranian defiance in the face of Western demands to curb sensitive nuclear activity.
Iran now enriches uranium to a 3.5 percent concentration of the fissile isotope U-235 - suitable for nuclear power plants - as well as 20 percent, which it says it needs for a medical research reactor.
Israel, Iran's arch foe, says Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability and last week warned the Islamic state will be on the brink of developing a nuclear weapon by mid-2013, referring to its growing stock of 20 percent material.
But Western experts believe Iran is still a few years away from being able to assemble a nuclear-armed missile.
Haqiqatpour's comments, carried by Iran's English-language Press TV, appeared to be an attempt to show the six world powers involved in diplomacy with Tehran that it has no intention of backing down in the long-running nuclear dispute.
The powers - including the United States, Russia, China and six European heavyweights - want Iran to halt 20 percent enrichment, shut down the underground facility where this is done and ship out the stockpile.
Iran wants the powers to recognize its "right" to refine uranium and also ease sanctions on it. Three rounds of talks since April have failed to make any breakthrough.
"In case our talks with the (six powers) fail to pay off, Iranian youth will master (the technology for) enrichment up to 60 percent to fuel submarines and ocean-going ships," Haqiqatpour said.
The powers should know that "if these talks continue into next year, Iran cannot guarantee it would keep its enrichment limited to 20 percent. This enrichment is likely to increase to 40 or 50 percent," he said.
Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati and Zahra Hosseinian; Editing by Mark Heinrich