October 22, 2009 / 11:38 AM / 10 years ago

Senior Iranian MP casts doubt on atom fuel deal

TEHRAN (Reuters) - A senior Iranian MP rejected on Thursday the idea of sending enriched uranium abroad for further processing, hinting at Tehran’s reluctance to embrace a proposal meant to ease international tension over its nuclear ambitions.

A technician works in the control room at the uranium conversion facility in Isfahan, 450 km south of Tehran, February 3, 2007. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

The U.N. nuclear watchdog has presented a draft deal to Iran and three big powers for approval by Friday. It would cut Iran’s quantity of low-enriched uranium (LEU) below the threshold that could yield a nuclear weapon if it were refined to high purity, while providing Iran with fuel for a nuclear medicine facility.

Diplomats say the plan would require Iran to send by the end of the year 1.2 tons of its known 1.5-tonne LEU stockpile to Russia, which would enrich it further. It would be shipped on to France for conversion into fuel plates, then returned to Iran to power a reactor making radio-isotopes for cancer care.

“They (the West) tell us: you give us your 3.5 percent enriched uranium and we will give you the fuel for the reactor. It is not acceptable to us,” parliament’s deputy speaker, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, was quoted as saying by ISNA news agency.

“The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) is obliged to provide us with the fuel, based on safeguards,” he said.

The U.N. agency provides technical aid to member states for developing civilian nuclear energy. But U.N. sanctions on Iran ban trade in sensitive nuclear materials with the country.

Iran has yet to give an official reaction to the deal draft submitted by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei on Wednesday after three days of talks in Vienna failed to finalize the deal as the IAEA, France, Russia and the United States had wanted.

Western diplomats said this was because Iran raised many questions about fundamental aspects of the plan which it had already agreed to in principle at talks in Geneva on October 1. ElBaradei’s plan contains the key terms sought by the powers.

IRAN “REVIEWING” PROPOSAL

Iran, which says its nuclear program is only for producing electricity, has already amassed enough LEU for one bomb if it were enriched to a concentration of about 90 percent, compared with the 20 percent suitable for the Tehran reactor.

Iran’s IAEA envoy hinted after Wednesday’s close of the talks that his government may seek amendments to the draft fuel plan. Western diplomats suggested this could unravel the deal.

A senior Iranian official, who declined to be named, said Tehran was still considering the draft. “The proposal is being reviewed and we will later announce our stance,” he told Reuters.

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, said Iran had the capability to enrich uranium to 20 percent on its own but it did not need much fuel for the plant.

“Despite the fact that we have the capacity and capability to produce enrichment uranium at 20 percent, we prefer to procure this fuel from abroad,” Salehi told Iran newspaper.

“But if we receive any signal that the providers are reluctant to give it to us, then to prevent the reactor’s closure we have no option but to produce it inside (Iran).”

Only France and Argentina, which in 1993 provided the reactor’s fuel stock, now set to run out in about a year, have the technology to fabricate the fuel needed by the plant, Western officials say.

They say the LEU deal would effectively test Iran’s stated intention to use enriched uranium only for peaceful purposes, and buy time for negotiations on the West’s ultimate goal — for Iran to halt enrichment in return for trade and technology benefits.

Iran has repeatedly ruled out halting its enrichment activities, but world powers will press for a nuclear freeze at further talks at senior foreign ministry level, planned soon.

“As I said before, we will not relinquish our rights (to enrich uranium), we are committed to our rights,” Salehi said.

Additional reporting by Hashem Kalantari; writing by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Mark Trevelyan

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