By Parisa Hafezi
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Influential Iranian lawmakers on Saturday criticized a U.N.-drafted agreement that requires Tehran to send its atomic stockpile abroad for processing.
Their comments were reported as U.N. inspectors left Vienna for Iran to examine a nuclear site that has heightened Western fears of a covert Iranian program to develop atomic bombs.
The draft International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) deal requires Iran to cut its atomic stockpile but the Tehran government missed a Friday deadline for responding to it. Iran said its answer would be given next week.
Russia, France and the United States, the other parties to the deal, have endorsed the plan, and U.S. President Barack Obama held talks by telephone with France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and Russia’s Dmitry Medvedev about Iran on Saturday.
Parliament speaker Ali Larijani accused Western powers of trying to “cheat” Iran.
“They insist on going in a direction that speaks of cheating. They are imposing some things on Iran,” Larijani told the student news agency ISNA, echoing some officials who suggested on Friday that instead of accepting the draft, Iran should buy nuclear fuel from abroad.
“I see no links between providing the fuel for the Tehran reactor and sending Iran’s low enriched uranium abroad.”
The agreement requires Iran to send 1.2 metric tons of its known 1.5-tonne stockpile of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia and France by the end of the year, Western diplomats say.
There it would be further processed in a way that would make it hard to use for warheads, and returned to Iran as fuel plates to power a Tehran reactor that makes radioactive medical isotopes but is due to run out of its imported fuel in a year.
Lawmaker Alaeddin Boroujerdi warned the Iranian authorities to be “cautious in their dealings” with world powers.
“Iran needs its 3.5 percent enriched uranium for use in our power stations. Consequently it is in Iran’s interest to buy nuclear fuel,” said Boroujerdi, head of parliament’s National Security and Foreign Affairs committee, quoted by ISNA.
Iran, which says its nuclear program is only for producing energy, is years away from having any nuclear power plants that would use low enriched uranium (LEU).
Another leading lawmaker said any nuclear deal with world powers should be accompanied by the scrapping of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran.
“Any nuclear fuel deal with the West … should come with relinquishment of sanctions on Iran, particularly a lifting of sanctions on raw uranium imports,” said lawmaker Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, the semi-official ILNA news agency reported.
Buying enriched uranium abroad would not only fail to reduce the domestic stockpile but also require sanctions imposed on Iran since 2006 to be waived to allow it to import the material.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final word on state matters, has remained silent over the deal.
The four-strong IAEA inspection team declined comment to reporters at Vienna airport before boarding their flight. They were due to arrive in Tehran early on Sunday and head out to the site in hills 160 km south of Tehran for a stay likely to last several days.
Iran added to concerns over its nuclear intentions in September by revealing the existence of the site.
The inspectors intend to compare engineering designs to be provided by Iran against the actual facility, interview employees and take environmental samples to verify that the site has no illicit military dimension.
They may also look into whether there might be undeclared support facilities elsewhere, such as a center for converting uranium ore into feedstock for enrichment.
A senior diplomat close to the IAEA said the agency understood from Iran that the plant would be subject to regular inspections from now on. Iran has not publicly confirmed this.
Western diplomats and analysts say the site’s capacity appears too small to fuel a nuclear power station but enough to yield fissile material for one or two nuclear warheads a year.