VIENNA Iran expects to hold more talks with world powers on its nuclear programme following an inconclusive round of negotiations in Istanbul earlier this month, its foreign minister said in a newspaper interview published on Monday.
The failure of the talks to secure a breakthrough over Tehran's uranium enrichment, which the West fears is aimed at developing nuclear weapons, has raised international concerns that Israel may carry out a military strike.
"I can't say it with certainty but if everything proceeds normally then there should be further negotiations," Iranian foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi told Austria's Der Standard.
"A breakdown (in talks) is in nobody's interests. The gaps can only be closed through talking."
Salehi said, however, that Iran's right to uranium enrichment had to be recognised from the outset. "It's a matter of principle," he said.
Tehran denies it is attempting to develop atomic weapons, saying its nuclear programme is for civilian energy purposes.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said earlier this month that Iran's proposals made in talks with the so-called P5+1 group of the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany were "non-starters".
Israel is widely thought to be the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons capability and, citing threats made by Iran's leaders to destroy it, has made it clear it would attack the Islamic state if diplomacy failed.
Salehi said Iran did not want to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, a key waterway at the neck of the Gulf through which 40 percent of the world's seaborne oil exports pass.
"The Persian Gulf is a lifeline for Iran and for the region and for the international community. We are rational. We do not want to cut off this lifeline and cause suffering," he said.
"But if we are forced, then Iran must do everything to defend its sovereignty and its national interests."
Military analysts have cast doubt on Iran's willingness to block the slender waterway, given the massive U.S.-led retaliation it would likely incur.
(Reporting by Georgina Prodhan; Editing by Pravin Char)