IAEA awaits “urgent” Iran government reply on fuel

Fri Oct 30, 2009 12:07pm EDT

By Sylvia Westall and Mark Heinrich

VIENNA/LONDON (Reuters) – Iran has yet to give a formal response to a U.N.-drafted nuclear fuel proposal after signaling it would do so this week, then leaking demands for major changes that could unravel the tentative pact.

Western diplomats complained of stalling tactics by Iran suggesting it had scant interest in following through on a plan they see as crucial to demonstrating Tehran wants refined uranium only for peaceful energy, as it says, not nuclear bombs.

They said Iran’s initial reply to the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday did not form a basis for negotiations and that it was urgent Tehran give a full, official response to the proposed deal with the United States, France and Russia.

Western officials remained largely quiet on Iran’s signals and left IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to push the Islamic Republic for more detail.

“As far as the government’s response is concerned, this is still outstanding,” a diplomat close to the IAEA said.

“The IAEA has to wait until Iran responds (fully) and take it from there. Naturally they are aware of the urgency of their formal reply.” Iran missed an initial IAEA deadline for a response last Friday.

The IAEA draft pact calls for Iran to transfer about 75 percent of its known 1.5 tons of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia for further enrichment by the end of this year, then to France for conversion into fuel plates.

These would be returned to Tehran to power the reactor, which produces radio-isotopes for cancer treatment.

French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said Iran had appeared to have given only a verbal indication of Tehran’s position and had proposed changes which he did not specify.

“We call on Iran to give the agency a formal, positive response on the accord without delay,” Valero told a regular news briefing in Paris.

According to Iranian media, Tehran would only allow LEU to be shipped out in small, staggered portions, not all in one go by the end of the year as the draft text stipulates.

Another Iranian demand is to import fuel for the reactor from foreign suppliers at the same time as sending material out.

This would undo key aspects of the deal for big powers who want to minimize Iran’s potential to build atom bombs from its growing stockpile of low-enriched uranium.

They have warned that Iran risks a fourth round of sanctions if it does not do more to defuse concerns about its atomic program. Iran says its nuclear work is only aimed at producing nuclear power and civilian research purposes.

WEST QUIET AS IRAN STALLS

Western powers withheld substantive comment on Iran’s delaying and demands for amendments to the pact that surfaced in Iran state media on Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signaled on Friday the United States will allow talks with Iran over its nuclear program to play out before considering fresh sanctions.

EU leaders urged Iran to accept the IAEA deal, saying progress would help open the door to further cooperation.

Diplomats said the ball was now in Iran’s court.

“Iran is stalling, but it isn’t just a negotiation tactic,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, senior non-proliferation fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“It faces real political trouble as all the power centres jockey for position. Nobody wants the rival to get credit for landing the big prize of U.S. relations.”

Iran’s clerical establishment agreed to talks with world powers to guarantee its credibility after its disputed June presidential vote and its turbulent aftermath which harmed the legitimacy of the country’s leadership.

Some hardliners have criticized the establishment for succumbing to international pressure to accept the deal, which could prove a litmus test of President Barack Obama’s diplomatic outreach and his drive for nuclear disarmament worldwide.

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