By Sylvia Westall
VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran wants more talks on a U.N.-drafted nuclear deal and prefers to import atomic fuel rather than send its own uranium abroad for processing, a senior official said, suggesting terms that world powers are likely to rebuff.
Western powers have urged Iran to accept a draft deal in which it would send most of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad by the end of the year for further enrichment to turn it into fuel for a medical reactor in Tehran.
But Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh told Reuters on Monday that more talks were needed “in order to ensure that our technical concerns, and especially the issue of the guarantee of the fuel supply, are taken into consideration.”
Tehran appears to be stalling after appearing ready to make concessions to the international community, which is threatening to impose new sanctions over fears that Iran is pursuing an atomic weapons program.
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, who drafted the plan, said the deal was a chance for Tehran to build confidence in its atomic ambitions.
“I therefore urge Iran to be as forthcoming as possible in responding soon to my recent proposal based on the initiative of the United States, Russia and France,” ElBaradei told the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Iran says its uranium enrichment program is for peaceful electricity generation only and senior lawmakers have voiced deep misgivings about parting with the bulk of Iran’s LEU, seen as a strategic asset and a strong bargaining chip.
“We are ready for the next round of technical discussions in Vienna at the IAEA headquarters,” Soltanieh said by telephone, adding that the IAEA should now arrange a date.
Western powers have signaled that their patience is limited and they will consider new sanctions early next year if Iran does not make its nuclear work more transparent.
France and Germany urged Iran to accept ElBaradei’s deal, echoing earlier comments from Britain and Russia.
“We are waiting for a reply. If the reply is aimed at delaying matters, as we believe, then we will not accept it,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told a news conference in Paris with German counterpart Guido Westerwelle.
The IAEA draft plan, backed by the other participants — the United States, Russia and France — aims to reduce Iran’s LEU stockpile below the minimum quantity that could be turned into the highly enriched uranium needed for a nuclear bomb.
“We are ready to buy the fuel from any supplier under the full scope of safeguards and surveillance of the IAEA,” said Soltanieh, Tehran’s veteran ambassador to the IAEA.
“The core issue is the assurance and guarantee of the supply, keeping in mind the past confidence deficit where we did not receive the fuel we had paid for,” he said, alluding to supply deals that fell through after the Islamic Revolution.
Iran’s foreign minister told reporters in Kuala Lumpur that Tehran wanted the IAEA to establish a “technical commission” to review the draft deal.
Iran gave the IAEA an “initial response” to the draft deal on Friday after talks in Vienna on October 19-21 with the three big powers. Diplomats say IAEA chief ElBaradei told Tehran to come back with a full answer and a better proposal.
Western diplomats say Iran has asked to receive fuel for a Tehran reactor making radio-isotopes for cancer treatment before shipping out any of its own LEU. Iran also wants to transfer the enriched uranium in small shipments, not in one go.
Diplomats say the Iranian demands are unacceptable because the deal in this form would not lessen Tehran’s potential to turn LEU into bomb-grade nuclear fuel if it wanted, a scenario the West fears due to Iran’s history of nuclear secrecy.
“The messages from Tehran are negative, I am quite pessimistic,” one European diplomat said.