October 29, 2009 / 3:11 PM / 10 years ago

SNAP ANALYSIS: Iran stalls atom plan but no new sanctions soon

LONDON (Reuters) - Iran’s bid to rewrite a draft nuclear deal will block it by removing the non-proliferation payoff sought by six world powers, but Tehran is keeping harsher sanctions at bay by not rejecting the proposal outright.

* For the six, the pact’s point is to minimize Iran’s potential to build atom bombs and spur it to use nuclear knowhow for energy only by having it send low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad for conversion into fuel for nuclear medicine in Tehran.

* But Iran signaled on Thursday it will not ship out LEU except in small, staggered portions, not all in one go by the end of the year as the draft text stipulates. Another demand is to import fuel for the reactor from foreign suppliers at the same time that Iran is sending its own material out.

* These may be killer amendments for the West since they would pre-empt any depletion of Iran’s LEU stash below the threshold needed for a bomb, were it refined to 90 percent purity. Moreover, current U.N. sanctions ban trade with Iran in sensitive nuclear materials, which include enriched uranium.

* Iranian leaders argue that to part with the bulk of LEU stocks would deprive Iran of its strongest bargaining chip in talks with the West it sees as bent on stifling its right to diversified energy and regional power status in the Middle East.

* Iran’s bid for sweeping revisions has probably dashed prospects for follow-up talks with six world powers due shortly. But by saying it remains committed to the deal’s framework for cooperation to allay mistrust, Iran keeps the door open for more talks and staves off more sanctions at least until next year.

* The outline deal, along with a fresh U.N. inspector trip to a hitherto covert Iranian enrichment site, were the first fruits of new dialogue to defuse confrontation, and ultimately a risk of Israeli attack, over Iran’s disputed nuclear designs.

* But Iran has won time to expand enrichment by delaying answers to proposals for ending the impasse with the six powers, offering counter-proposals to drag out talks and push back Western red lines, while making just enough of a show of flexibility in principle to stave off truly painful international sanctions.

* The United States under the Bush administration and top European allies Britain, France and Germany refused to negotiate with Iran unless it suspended enrichment first. In that vacuum, a defiant Iran sped ahead with enrichment, amassing enough LEU for refinement to the high purity suitable for a nuclear warhead, if it so chose, while the Western powers became deadlocked with Russia and China over the need for broader sanctions.

* Now the United States under President Barack Obama’s diplomatic outreach policy and European powers along with Russia and China are negotiating on how Iran’s LEU should be used. They still insist any resolution to the seven-year standoff will require Iran to stop proliferation-prone enrichment.

* But Iran has shifted the goalposts with run-out-the-clock tactics and the holdup over the fuel pact is the latest chapter.

Editing by Peter Millership

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