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France denies Iran given new fuel swap proposals

PARIS (Reuters) - France dismissed Monday an Iranian report that it had made new proposals along with the United States and Russia on a nuclear fuel swap, saying the only valid offer was an existing deal that Tehran has yet to accept.

Russia also said the countries had simply confirmed their support for a proposal brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to send much of Iran’s low enriched uranium abroad, Interfax news agency said.

Washington and its allies fear Iran wants to acquire nuclear weapons, and are lobbying for new United Nations sanctions, but Tehran says its aims are purely peaceful.

Earlier the semi-official ILNA news agency quoted Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy organization, as saying proposals had been received after Tehran opted to step up its own uranium enrichment, a decision it announced last week.

“After Iran’s decision to internally produce 20 percent enriched uranium, we received some proposals from Russia, America and France and right now we are studying this issue along with other proposals from different countries,” the agency quoted him as saying.

But the French Foreign Ministry denied this. “Mr Salehi should know that the only proposition is the one put forward by the IAEA last October, which has still not received a satisfactory response,” said ministry spokesman Bernard Valero.

Moscow likewise denied the report. “Russia, the United States and France merely confirmed their support for the previously agreed IAEA proposals,” an unidentified official at Russia’s Foreign Ministry was quoted as saying by Interfax.

“That Iranian statement is fanciful and false,” added a senior Western diplomat.


Iran originally accepted a plan to send 75 percent of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia and France, where it would be converted into special fuel for a Tehran reactor that makes isotopes for treatment of cancer patients. For big powers, the key point of the plan was to reduce Iran’s LEU reserve below the quantity needed for a nuclear bomb, if enriched to a high level.

But Iran later said it wanted fresh fuel for the reactor before it would agree to ship any enriched uranium stocks to Russia and France, and then only in small, gradual amounts.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast also appeared to contradict Salehi’s remarks. Tehran was ready to swap fuel only if its conditions were observed, he said.

“Since we have not received any new proposals until now, domestically producing this fuel is on the agenda,” ILNA quoted him as saying.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last Thursday that Iran was now able to enrich uranium to more than 80 percent purity, close to levels experts say would be needed for a nuclear bomb, although he denied it had any such intention.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday she saw few alternatives to more sanctions on Iran. Washington sought a peaceful end to the standoff but did not want to engage diplomatically “while they are building their bomb,” she added.

A new round of U.N. sanctions would require the consent of veto-wielding Security Council members Russia and China, both of which have been less inclined to impose them in the past.

Reporting by Crispian Balmer and Ramin Mostafavi in Tehran; additional reporting by Guy Faulconbridge in Moscow, writing by Andrew Hammond; editing by David Stamp