French official: Iran’s half-built reactor a sticking point

WASHINGTON – France’s foreign minister said Saturday that international negotiations to curb Iran’s nuclear program are hung up on what to do about Iran’s half-built plutonium reactor, and how to deal with the country’s stockpile of medium-enriched uranium.

In the most complete explanation yet of the delay in the talks, Laurent Fabius told France-Inter radio that France does not want construction of the Arak plutonium reactor to continue during final negotiations over the nuclear program, which could take six months.

He said world powers needed to limit construction of the reactor because it will be capable of generating huge quantities of plutonium. France was “absolutely firm” on this point, he said.

Fabius said France also wanted a provision for converting most of Iran’s stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, which can be easily upgraded into nuclear bomb fuel, to a low-enrichment status.


The talks, which have raised hopes for a breakthough on Tehran’s disputed program after a decade of diplomatic deadlock, were expected to conclude Friday, but have been extended to Saturday and may spill over to next week.

U.S. officials have provided no explanation of the snag.

Fabius, who joined the talks Friday, said “major issues remain,” and that “there is an initial draft that we do not accept.”

“We want a deal … but not a sucker’s deal,” he said.

The six powers have demanded that Arak remain inactive during the final negotiations. But some countries have favored more limits on its progress.

The reactor offers Iran a potential second route to a nuclear bomb. And it poses special problems because, once completed, it cannot be hit with a military strike without releasing radioactive materials into the atmosphere.

Fabius did not indicate whether France is taking a harder line than other countries at the negotiations, which include the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany, Britain and Iran. But France has a history of taking a harder line on Iran’s nuclear program than many others.

Iran’s ISNA news agency complained Friday that some European countries, which it didn’t identify, were echoing Israel’s objections to the proposed deal, and holding up progress.