TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran does not oppose sending its controversial low-enriched uranium abroad as long as there is a simultaneous exchange inside the country of nuclear fuel processed by world powers, a senior official said on Tuesday.
Foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said simultaneous exchange inside Iran of its 3.5 percent low-enriched uranium with 20 percent pure uranium processed abroad would act as the guarantee required by Tehran.
“Iran is not opposed to sending uranium abroad, but is considering how to do that,” Mehmanparast told a news conference.
He said Tehran wanted a “100 percent guarantee” that it would receive the fuel required for its research reactor and “one of the guarantees is a simultaneous exchange of fuel inside the country.”
Iran and world powers have been at loggerheads for weeks, failing to reach a nuclear fuel deal aimed at allaying Western concerns over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
The West, led by Washington, fears Iran might otherwise covertly divert some of its LEU stocks for further enrichment to the much higher levels required for a bomb, an ambition Iranian officials strongly deny.
Enrichment of uranium lies at the heart of Iran’s nuclear controversy as the material can be used to power nuclear reactors as well as to make the core of an atom bomb.
To defuse the crisis, the UN atomic watchdog brokered a deal last month under which Iran would send 1,200 kilogrammes (2,640 pounds) of LEU, or 70 percent of total stocks as of October, to Russia and then France for conversion into fuel required for the internationally-supervised Tehran reactor.
But Iran has rejected that deal amid stiff opposition from senior officials who oppose sending the LEU in one go. They fear the West might renege on its side of the bargain.
And a top Iranian official involved in nuclear negotiations with the West also said the simultaneous exchange of uranium would be the best guarantee to resolve the current impasse.
“They (world powers) said that our 1,200 kilogrammes of 3.5 percent enriched uranium should be transported for further enrichment to 20 percent level by Russia and then to be converted into fuel by France for the Tehran reactor,” Ali Bagheri, deputy secretary of Iran’s powerful Supreme National Security Council said.
“Iran has no problem in transporting its 3.5 percent LEU, but needs a 100 percent guarantee it will get the fuel for the Tehran reactor and one of the guarantees is the simultaneous exchange of fuel inside Iranian territory,” he told hardline newspaper, Kayhan.
For his part, top Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalali told state-owned Arabic language Al-Alam television channel the Islamic republic wanted “concrete guarantees it would get the fuel for the Tehran reactor.”
“If there is no concrete guarantee, we have other options,” he said, indicating Iran that could enrich its LEU to 20 percent or buy it abroad.
World powers have threatened to levy fresh sanctions against Iran if it fails to come clean on its atomic programme. They still hope Tehran will accept the UN-drafted deal and send its LEU abroad in one go.
“We would prefer that the Iranian regime follow through on the opportunity to engage,” Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher said on Sunday.
But she warned that “if persuasion doesn’t work, pressure is going to have to be the next line of action.” She suggested a further round of sanctions against Iran, already under three sets of sanctions for defiantly enriching uranium in the central city of Natanz.
The United States and Iran’s arch-foe Israel have never ruled out military action also against Tehran to halt its galloping nuclear drive.
Iran regularly boasts of its military advancements and abilities to thwart any military strikes, particularly against its nuclear installations.
Since Sunday its military has been conducting manouevres aimed at defending the facilities.