By Caren Bohan and Oleg Shchedrov
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – U.S. President Barack Obama said on Sunday time was running out for diplomacy in a dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme, but a top Iranian official said it was up to the West to show it sincerely wanted a deal.
Russia and France, both involved in talks with Iran over what the West fears are its plans for an atomic bomb, also put pressure on Tehran, with French Foreign Bernard Kouchner saying the Islamic republic looked set to reject a U.N.-drafted accord.
Obama suggested patience was running low in the dispute with Iran, which faces possible harsher international sanctions or even Israeli military action.
“Unfortunately, so far at least, Iran appears to have been unable to say yes to what everyone acknowledges is a creative and constructive approach,” Obama said after talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific summit in Singapore.
“We are running out of time with respect to that approach.”
Repeating previous Russian language, Medvedev said “other means” could be used if discussions did not yield results, but did not specify what they might be.
A draft deal brokered by the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), calls on Iran to send some 75 percent of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia and France to be turned into fuel for a Tehran medical research reactor.
A senior adviser to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said no official response to the proposal had been announced.
“We are waiting to see how much sincerity the Western countries have in their pledges,” said Mojtaba Samareh-Hashemi.
Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani said U.S. policy including steps to renew sanctions showed Obama was no better than his predecessor George W. Bush. The remarks in the legislature prompted lawmakers’ chants of “Death to America.”
Iranian officials have said Tehran prefers to buy reactor fuel from foreign suppliers rather than part with its LEU, or at most swap small amounts of LEU for the reactor material on Iranian soil. They have called for more talks.
Iran has amassed enough LEU for 1-2 bombs, analysts say, if it were further enriched to reach weapons-grade.
Asked by an Israeli newspaper whether a final Iranian decision was pending, France’s Kouchner said: “You could phrase it that way, but in effect the answer has almost been given already, and it is negative. That’s a shame, a shame, a shame.
“We demanded to take a large quantity of (LEU) because we do not want them, while we are enriching uranium on their behalf, to continue themselves enriching uranium which could one day be used for military purposes,” he told Yedioth Ahronoth daily.
DEADLINE FOR IRAN
Iranian pledges in Geneva talks with six powers on October 1 won Tehran a reprieve from sanctions targeting its oil sector, but Western powers stressed they would not wait indefinitely for it to follow through.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said an end-of-year deadline for Iran remained.
Russian officials such as foreign minister Sergei Lavrov have said Washington was trying to push Moscow into a position of publicly threatening the imposition of sanctions soon if Iran did not play ball.
Iran says it is enriching uranium only for power plant fuel, not for nuclear warheads. But its history of nuclear secrecy and continued restrictions on U.N. inspections have raised Western suspicions it is covertly pursuing nuclear weapons capability.
The IAEA is consulting on possible compromises to save the deal, including Iran placing its LEU under escrow in a friendly third country, like Turkey, pending delivery of reactor fuel. Iran and Turkey discussed the idea in talks this month.
Iran’s presidential adviser Samareh-Hashemi said regarding Turkey’s role: “Turkey is also on the cards but they have not come to a firm agreement or decision to act accordingly.”
Iran has an enrichment plant at Natanz and IAEA inspectors have visited a second, hidden enrichment site near Qom that Iran revealed in September after, Western diplomats said, discovering that U.S., British and French spy services had detected it.