Iran Puts Off Decision on Proposal To Ship Nuclear Materials Abroad

By Yossi Melman (Haaretz) and News Agencies

Published October 23, 2009.
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Senior Iranian officials stated on Friday that they would not respond to the United Nations-drafted plan that would ship most of the country’s uranium abroad for enrichment until next week.

Iran has not yet refused the nuclear draft deal, saying instead it would prefer to buy the nuclear fuel it needs for a reactor that makes medical isotopes.

The International Atomic Energy Agency released a statement on Friday saying “Iran informed the Director General today that it is considering the proposal in depth and in a favorable light, but needs time until the middle of next week to provide a response.”

It said IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who had set a deadline of Friday for responses, hoped that Iran’s response “will equally be positive, since approval of this agreement will signal a new era of cooperation.”

While Iran did not reject the plan outright, state TV reported that Tehran was waiting for a response to its own proposal to buy nuclear fuel rather than ship low-enriched uranium to Russia for further enrichment.

Iran has often used counterproposals as a way to draw out nuclear negotiations with the West.

The United Nations nuclear watchdog on Wednesday presented a draft deal to Iran and three world powers for approval within two days to reduce Tehran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium, seen by the West as a nuclear weapons risk.

Russia earlier on Friday agreed to proposals by the UN nuclear watchdog to help reduce Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.

“We agree with these proposals and we are counting on not only Iran, but all the other participants of the negotiations, to confirm their readiness to implement the proposed scheme,” Lavrov told reporters.

In addition to Russia, the United States and France have also approved the draft.

A U.S. official on Friday said that Washington would await a formal response from Iran on the proposed nuclear draft, while French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was quoted as saying that indications received from Iran were “not very positive.”

“I cannot say that the situation regarding Iran is very positive. Now, meetings are being held in Vienna. But via the indications we are receiving, matters are not very positive,” Kouchner said during an official visit to Lebanon.

Meanwhile, officials in Tehran said on Friday they were was awaiting a “positive and constructive” response from world powers to its proposal on providing nuclear fuel for the reactor, state television reported.

“Now we are awaiting a positive and constructive response on Iran’s proposal from the other party on providing nuclear fuel for Tehran’s reactor,” TV quoted a member of Iran’s negotiating team, who attended the Vienna meeting on Oct 21, as saying.

“The other party is expected to avoid past mistakes in violating agreements … and to gain Iran’s trust,” the unnamed official said.

EU official: Israel out of the loop on Iran talks

Meanwhile, a senior European Union official told Israeli officials this week that Israel is not privy to the details of the exchanges between Iran and the Western countries regarding its nuclear program.

“You do not understand the extent to which you are not in the picture. You do not know how much you do not know and what is happening in Iran,” he said.

Accordingly, a number of senior Israeli officials backed the European official’s statements by saying that the release of the draft of an agreement with Iran caught Israel by surprise.

However, a senior official in the U.S. administration told Haaretz Thursday that from the minute the talks began on a deal over the uranium enrichment program of Iran, Israel was updated on every detail by the United States, and was given detailed reports on the talks with the Iranians and the ongoing dialogue on a nearly daily basis.

The Prime Minister’s Bureau refused to comment.

Barak slams Iran nuclear deal

Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke out Thursday against the draft agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, under which most of its enriched uranium will be exported abroad for processing into a form usable in its research reactor.

“Iran received legitimization for enriching uranium for civilian purposes on its soil, contrary to the understanding that those negotiating with it have about its real plans - obtaining nuclear [weapons] capability,” Barak said.

He acknowledged that the deal, if signed, would significantly reduce Iran’s stock of enriched uranium, but said what is needed is a complete halt to its enrichment program.

“The talks [with Iran] must be of short, limited duration,” he added. “The principle we are recommending to all the players is not, under any circumstances, to remove any option from the table.”

Iran is slated to sign the agreement Friday, along with the United States, France, Russia and the International Atomic Energy Agency. And while the Iranians might try to wrest some last-minute concessions from their interlocutors, most analysts expect that they will ultimately sign, despite objections from some Iranian parliamentarians who say it infringes on the country’s sovereignty.

Many details of the agreement have not yet been published, but the bits released to the public call for Iran to transfer about 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium - about 75 percent of its known stock - to Russia. There, it will be enriched to a level of 20 percent and then transferred to France, where it will be processed into nuclear fuel and returned to Tehran for use in its research reactor, which makes medical isotopes. The entire process will take about 18 months.

This would leave Iran with only some 300 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, which is enough to make only about 6 kilograms of bomb-grade uranium. Since a nuclear weapon requires 25 to 30 kilograms of high-enriched uranium, that means Iran would lack the means to produce a bomb in the next year or so whatever its intentions.

Nevertheless, the deal completely ignores repeated UN Security Council resolutions demanding that Tehran stop enrichment. Instead, it effectively legitimizes Iranian enrichment and allows it to continue.






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