Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Iranian Regime Delays Response to IAEA

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The Washington Post

Iran said Friday that it would respond next week to an international offer to supply fuel for a nuclear research reactor in Tehran, leaving unclear whether it was prepared to accept a deal that would reduce its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and assuage Western concerns about its nuclear program. Ignoring a Friday deadline set by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei for a formal response to a draft agreement negotiated earlier this week, Iranian officials instead floated a proposal to buy the reactor fuel from abroad. The proposition appeared likely to exacerbate U.S. suspicions that Iran wants to maintain the option to convert its uranium stocks into weapons-grade material at some point. "We will give our answer to Mr. ElBaradei next week," said Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, according to Iranian state-run television. In Vienna, the IAEA announced that Iran informed ElBaradei on Friday "that it is considering the proposal in depth and in a favorable light, but it needs time until the middle of next week to provide a response." It said ElBaradei "hopes that Iran's response will equally be positive, since approval of this agreement will signal a new era of cooperation." The agency said the other parties to the IAEA deal -- Russia, France and the United States -- "have indicated today their positive response" to the draft agreement. Washington's approval "is consistent with the agreement in principle" reached between Iran and six world powers in Geneva on Oct. 1 in response to "Iran's request for assistance for its Tehran Research Reactor to continue to produce medical isotopes," National Security Council spokesman Mike Hammer said in a statement. "We are waiting to see if all the parties accept Director General ElBaradei's proposal so that implementation can begin."

In the Oct. 1 talks, Iran tentatively agreed to ship most of its low-enriched uranium outside the country for processing into higher-grade fuel for a small reactor that produces medical isotopes, and it accepted IAEA inspections of a newly disclosed uranium enrichment plant near Qom. This week's meetings in Vienna were intended to confirm details of the arrangements. Earlier Friday, Iranian state television quoted one of Iran's negotiators as saying the country was "interested in buying fuel for the Tehran research reactor within the framework of a clear proposal" and that "we are waiting for the other party's constructive and trust-building response." The IAEA deal would require Iran to rid itself of nearly 80 percent of its reported stash of low-enriched uranium, effectively delaying any attempt by its scientists to develop a nuclear weapon. It would also allow the Obama administration more time to pursue talks with Iran. Under the deal, Russia would process Iran's low-enriched uranium and France would then take that material and fashion it into the metal plates used for the Tehran reactor. U.S. officials conceived of the plan as a humanitarian gesture that Iran would have difficulty turning down; they also purposely included Russia, which has close ties to Tehran. Administration officials argue that if Iran did not accept such gestures, it would be easier for them to build a case for tough sanctions and bring Russia and China, which have been skeptical of such tactics, on board. But Iranian officials, notably President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have said in the past that Iran wished to purchase the fuel for the reactor directly, thus avoiding giving up its material. (Read more...)