Iran wants new nuclear fuel talks

VIENNA Mon Nov 2, 2009 9:24pm EST

International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei (L) walks with Iran's Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh (R) as he arrives at Imam Khomeini International airport, south of Tehran, October 3, 2009. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

International Atomic Energy Agency IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei (L) walks with Iran's Ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh (R) as he arrives at Imam Khomeini International airport, south of Tehran, October 3, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl

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VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran wants more talks on a U.N.-drafted nuclear deal and to import atomic fuel rather than send its own uranium abroad for processing, a Iranian diplomat said, suggesting terms world powers are likely to rebuff.

Western powers have urged Iran to accept a draft deal in which it would send most of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad by the end of the year for further enrichment to turn it into fuel for a medical reactor in Tehran.

But Iranian Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh told Reuters on Monday that more talks were needed "in order to ensure that our technical concerns, and especially the issue of the guarantee of the fuel supply, are taken into consideration."

Iran's requests will add to doubts that a way out of a standoff with big powers will be found soon.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Iran to accept the draft proposals. "We urge Iran to accept the agreement as proposed. We are not changing it," she told a news conference in Marrakesh, adding this was a "pivotal moment" for Tehran.

Tehran seems to be stalling after having appeared ready to make concessions to the international community, which is threatening to impose new sanctions over fears that Iran is pursuing an atomic weapons program.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency urged Iran to accept the deal with the United States, France and Russia, to build confidence in its atomic activities.

"The issue at stake remains that of mutual guarantees amongst the parties," IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei told the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

"I should add, however, that trust and confidence-building are an incremental process that requires focusing on the big picture and a willingness to take risks for peace."

Iran says its enrichment program is purely peaceful and officials have voiced misgivings about parting with the bulk of Iran's LEU, seen as a strategic asset and key bargaining chip.

"We are ready for the next round of technical discussions in Vienna at the IAEA headquarters," Soltanieh said by telephone, adding that the IAEA should now arrange a date.

Iran's U.N. Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee did not mention the fuel proposal in his speech to the General Assembly, which was meeting to discuss the annual report of the IAEA. [nN02441625]

NEW SANCTIONS?

Western powers have signaled that their patience is limited and that they will consider new sanctions early next year unless Iran makes its nuclear work more transparent.

France and Germany urged Iran to accept ElBaradei's deal, echoing earlier comments from Britain and Russia.

"We are waiting for a reply. If the reply is aimed at delaying matters, as we believe, then we will not accept it," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told a news conference in Paris with German counterpart Guido Westerwelle.

The plan, backed by the other participants, aims to reduce Iran's LEU stockpile below the minimum quantity that could be turned into the highly enriched uranium needed for a bomb.

"We are ready to buy the fuel from any supplier under the full scope of safeguards and surveillance of the IAEA," said Soltanieh, Tehran's veteran ambassador to the atomic watchdog.

"The core issue is the assurance and guarantee of the supply, keeping in mind the past confidence deficit where we did not receive the fuel we had paid for," he said, alluding to supply deals that fell through after the Islamic Revolution.

Iran's foreign minister said Tehran wanted the IAEA to set up a "technical commission" to review the deal.

Iran gave the IAEA an "initial response" to the draft deal on Friday after talks in Vienna on October 19-21 with the three big powers. Diplomats say ElBaradei told Tehran to come back with a full answer and a better proposal.

Western diplomats say Iran has asked to receive fuel for a Tehran reactor making radio isotopes for cancer treatment before shipping out any of its own LEU. Iran also wants to transfer the enriched uranium in small shipments, not in one go.

Diplomats say the Iranian demands are unacceptable because the deal in this form would not lessen Tehran's potential to turn LEU into bomb-grade nuclear fuel if it wanted, a scenario the West fears due to Iran's history of nuclear secrecy.

"The messages from Tehran are negative, I am quite pessimistic," one European diplomat said.

(Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich in Vienna, Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations, Sophie Hardach in Paris and Razak Ahmad in Kuala Lumpur; editing by Andrew Roche)