DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will propose a new version of a nuclear fuel swap at talks this weekend with world powers that have tightened sanctions on Tehran due to concerns about its atomic activities, Al Arabiya television reported on Thursday.
The Saudi-owned TV news channel did not identify the “sources familiar with the plan” that appeared to be a revised version of a deal which was agreed in principle at a previous round of talks in 2009 but then fell apart.
Western analysts and diplomats said any such offer was unlikely to be acceptable to the other parties which will meet with Iran in Istanbul on Friday and Saturday.
Expectations are low for a breakthrough on the nuclear dispute which led last year to tightened U.N. and unilateral sanctions against Iran, which many countries fear is pursuing nuclear weapons capability, something Tehran denies, saying its program is for peaceful purposes.
Al Arabiya said Iran would offer to ship 1,000 kg of its low enriched uranium (LEU) and 40 kg of other uranium, presumably a reference to fuel enriched to 20 percent purity, abroad for further processing. Iranian officials were not immediately available to comment on the report.
The other countries at Istanbul — the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — are unlikely to accept such an offer as it would not mean a sufficient amount of LEU would be shipped out of Iran which has continued to build up its stockpile of the material, rejecting repeated demands from the U.N. Security Council to suspend enrichment.
Enriched uranium can be used as fuel for power stations or provide material for bombs if refined much further.
“I’m very, very skeptical about it. I don’t think the Americans can accept such a proposal,” one European diplomat in Vienna, where the U.N. nuclear watchdog is based, said about the reported Iranian proposal.
THE 2009 DEAL
Mark Fitzpatrick, nuclear expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank, said it would still leave Iran with roughly 2,000 kg of LEU, “well more than enough for one nuclear weapon.”
Fitzpatrick added: “This is not a confidence building measure for the other side (the powers) at all. This is not a starting point. I don’t think they could even contemplate this.”
Under the 2009 deal, Iran was to send 1,200 kg of its LEU abroad — roughly the amount needed for a bomb if refined to a high level. It was then to be enriched to 20 percent fissile purity and then turned into fuel assemblies for a Tehran medical research reactor.
Since then, Iran has said it has been enriching uranium itself to 20 percent purity and that it now had some 40 kg of the material which it plans to use in it own fuel assemblies that it hopes to be able to build later this year, a claim many foreign analysts doubt.
Iran’s nuclear ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh said the technological advances meant the fuel swap was rapidly losing its appeal and said the Istanbul talks could be the “last chance” to achieve such a deal.