Iran has yet to formally reply to an international plan to ship its enriched uranium abroad to be turned into fuel for a Tehran medical reactor but insists it won’t agree to send all the material abroad at once, the nation’s official news agency reported Friday.
Western diplomats have decried such a proposed modification of the deal negotiated early this month because it would rob the international community of assurances that Iran would not have enough uranium to quickly develop a nuclear bomb.
But the Islamic Republic News Agency report said Iran’s “red line” in the negotiations was that it would agree only to a simultaneous exchange of uranium enriched to 5% purity for fuel rods containing 20% enriched uranium needed for its medical reactor.
“Iran will in no way abandon this condition,” the report said.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Tehran’s envoy to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, described Iran’s stance in a phone conversation Thursday with Mohamed ElBaradei, the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency’s chief. The stance has disappointed Western officials and arms control authorities hoping for a breakthrough in a years-long diplomatic knot.
Western officials have hinted that they would reject such a stipulation, worried it would allow Iran to quickly replenish its stockpile of enriched uranium above the threshold necessary to fuel a nuclear bomb.
But Iranian officials have expressed suspicions that their country would not get the fuel rods if it turns over uranium to foreign powers.
Iran continued to issue contradictory messages about the deal. Although state television has reported that Iran has submitted its response, an “informed source” quoted by the Iranian news agency said Soltanieh’s phone call to ElBaradei was not Tehran’s final answer to the plan.
Iran is now ready to begin negotiations about technical aspects of the deal, the report said. Under the proposal, Iran would send as much as 80% of its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France to be turned into fuel for the medical reactor.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran has only expressed its positive outlook on the proposal,” the news agency, which is politically close to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, quoted the source as saying.
Iran’s maneuvers have confounded Western diplomats and arms control experts. France’s Foreign Ministry spokesman demanded Friday that Iran provide an “official response” to the proposal. Western officials are waiting for a written response before planning their next move, a European official said.
ElBaradei “is seeking clarification from the Iranians with regard to the proposal on the Tehran research reactor,” U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood told reporters. “We’re waiting for that clarification so that we can go forward.”
France is among the few countries in the world capable of making the type of fuel rods necessary for the Tehran reactor.
A collapse of the deal would “show more than anything that Iran wants the bomb,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Iran expert based in Israel.