PARIS (Reuters) - International nuclear fuel production sites are an idea that should be examined to help defuse a standoff between Iran and the U.N. Security Council, the European Union’s foreign policy chief said on Thursday.
The Council has demanded that Iran suspend uranium enrichment -- a process that can produce fuel for nuclear power stations or, potentially, atom bombs -- and has twice imposed sanctions on Iran for ignoring its demands.
Iran says it has a right to the technology and denies Western charges that it is secretly pursuing nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian atomic power program.
“Only a multilateral solution can make it possible to end this crisis,” Javier Solana, mandated by major powers to hold talks with Iran on its willingness to suspend enrichment, and report back this month, told a conference on European policy.
“The idea of international enrichment centers under multilateral supervision has been discussed for some time. Let us therefore try to deepen it.”
Solana’s report on Iran’s readiness to suspend enrichment should help the permanent Security Council members and Germany decide whether to punish Iran further.
The United States, Britain and France have been pushing for a third round of sanctions against Tehran for failing to heed the Council’s demands. Diplomats say China and Russia have been reluctant to back the various proposed measures.
The powers agreed not to vote on any new sanctions until the end of November, pending Solana’s report and one by U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei on clearing up outstanding questions about the nature and scope of Iran’s atomic program.
ElBaradei has put forward the idea of an international mechanism that could provide nuclear fuel for power plants to countries, which would reduce the risk that states use their own enrichment sites to make material for nuclear warheads.
ElBaradei told a meeting of his International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) governing board on Thursday that the agency was examining proposals with a view to putting forward its own plan.
Russia has proposed setting up a fuel bank in Siberia, while Germany has made its own suggestion for an international uranium enrichment centre.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister also said in an interview published earlier this month that his country and other U.S.-allied Gulf nations were prepared to set up a body to provide Iran with enriched uranium.
Solana said the Saudi statement was “very strong”, and also cited ElBaradei’s proposal as an example.
“Today I think the (European) Union is best placed to engage the necessary thought process and make concrete proposals,” Solana said.
Iran has given a cool response when the idea of enriching its fuel on foreign soil has been brought up before.
Solana said Tehran’s decision to press ahead with enrichment despite the fact that the only power plant being built in Iran will receive fuel from Russia created a “confidence problem”.
“Iran is trying to enrich uranium. But it’s a little as if one were trying to make one’s own petrol before having even bought a car or learned how to drive,” he said.
Editing by Tim Pearce
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