TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran could consider sending its low-enriched uranium abroad, the Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday, apparently softening its opposition to a U.N. plan aimed at keeping a check on its nuclear ambitions.
Last week Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki rejected a U.N.-drafted deal that would see Iran ship low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad for reprocessing, saying this could only be swapped simultaneously on Iranian soil for fuel for nuclear medicine.
But Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said on Tuesday that Iran was not opposed to sending LEU abroad as long as it had “100 percent guarantees” it would receive refined fuel in return, for use in a medical research reactor.
“Regarding the guarantees we are not going to suggest anything, but one ... could be exchanging it on Iranian soil,” Mehmanparast told a news conference.
Any fuel swap in Iran would likely be a non-starter for Western powers, which want to delay Tehran’s potential to make a nuclear bomb by reducing its LEU stockpile. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.
Iran’s top nuclear official said it was up to world powers to find a guarantee that would satisfy Iran.
“The only way is that the West should give us a 100 percent guarantee to make this deal doable. The guarantee should be agreed by Iran,” Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, told Reuters when asked whether Iran’s condition was to do a nuclear transaction only on its territory.
Six world powers urged Tehran on Friday to accept the proposal brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). U.S. President Barack Obama has warned of more sanctions on Iran, the world’s fifth-largest oil producer.
The powers, increasingly concerned over Iran’s failure to be more open about its plans — underlined by its belated disclosure of a second enrichment site — have drafted a resolution on Iran to discuss at an IAEA meeting later this week, diplomats said on Tuesday.
The draft calls on Iran to open up fully to U.N. nuclear inspectors and investigators, clarify the origins and purpose of the hidden enrichment site and confirm it has no more undeclared nuclear plans, the diplomats told Reuters.
Russia and China, who have often blocked a tougher stance on Iran by the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors in the past, are fully behind the text along with the United States, Britain, France and Germany, they said.
With Russian and Chinese backing, the measure has a better chance of winning majority support including developing nations on the board in a vote in Vienna on Thursday or Friday.
If passed, it would be the first IAEA resolution targeting Iran since February 2006, when the governors referred Tehran to the U.N. Security Council for defying the agency’s requests that it suspend enrichment and open up completely to IAEA probes.
The draft fuel deal calls on Iran to send some 75 percent of its LEU to Russia and France, where it would be turned into fuel for the Tehran reactor, which produces radio-isotopes for cancer treatment but is due to run out of its imported fuel next year.
Western officials say Iran accepted the plan in principle last month, and they suspect that in demanding changes, Tehran is trying to buy time and avert more sanctions, while pressing ahead with nuclear enrichment activity.
Some analysts say hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad favours the fuel deal as a way to shore up his legitimacy after his disputed re-election in June, but that domestic rivals are trying to undermine him by criticizing the proposal.
“Nobody in Iran ever said that we are against sending 3.5 percent (LEU) abroad. We talked about the process of dispatching fuel,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Mehmanparast said.
“If we say we are looking for 100 percent guarantees, it means that we want 3.5 percent-enriched uranium to be sent out under such circumstances that we make sure that we will receive” fuel enriched to 20 percent purity for the reactor.
Iran’s nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili echoed the demand for “objective guarantees” on Arabic-language al Alam television.
“It is a commercial issue. Iran has asked the (IAEA) to provide it for Iran,” he said. “If they can’t provide fuel in time ... we have other options to get fuel.”
Western powers agree that Iran has the right to develop a civilian nuclear program, but want enrichment limits and stronger IAEA inspections to ensure it does not try to enrich uranium to the 90 percent level needed for a nuclear weapon. Iran says its aim is only to generate electricity.
The United States has rejected Iranian calls for amendments and further talks on the deal. Obama has said time is running out for diplomacy to resolve the long-running nuclear standoff.